January 2, 2017

McDowell Madness

We were all set to do our annual 100 miles of singletrack to kick off the new year...then the rains came. Jeff made the right call by postponing the Curmudgeon 100 a couple of weeks, but I still wanted to ride. There are plenty of trails in the Phoenix area that handle wet weather without damaging the trail surface. I opted to head over to the unforgiving McDowell Mtns. Rocky trails abound here, they have a tendency to work you over and those are the easy trails!! There are a series of passes the trails go over, Tom's Thumb, Windgate, Bell & Sunrise. There's also Gateway Saddle and Prospector trail.

There have been plenty of routes done over the years incorporating the passes. The Quad Bypass was probably the most well known and really set the standard for many years. I did it as one of my first real endurance rides and it kicked my ass. That route used Windgate twice, Bell & Sunrise. The old AES route used Tom's Thumb & Sunrise or Bell. I had begun to wonder if there was a feasible route that used all of the passes, plus Gateway & Prospector and all three approaches to Tom's Thumb?

I began drawing out routes on printed maps about two years ago and came up with one that didn't have too many overlapping sections. Now I just had to do it.

Jan. 2nd was the day. The rains had stopped some time on New Year's Day and the sky was mostly cloudy with a few breaks of sun. It was cool at the start with forecast highs in the upper 50's. Perfect for this kind of effort.

I started riding just after 7:30a and immediately entered into the gauntlet of rocks climbing Gateway towards Windgate. From there it only grew worse. At least I was getting a good test of my new 26x42 gear ratio, but even that didn't prevent the HAB.
Tom's Thumb still a long ways up.
Only a couple miles into the ride I had gained quite a view.

I transitioned onto the west approach to Tom's Thumb. Ride some, walk some, ride some more, then mostly walk up the 20+ switchbacks to the top. It's tough, but worth it.
2 thumbs up?
Loving how the bike is coming together. Saddle & wheels are next.

I decided to take bike pics at all the high points of the day, preferably at trail signs. Getting set to drop down East End here.

The riding didn't last long for me on East End. The trail drops abruptly and with it I assumed downhill HAB mode. At least this trail is much shorter than the west approach and the bottom half is all rideable.

Next up was Bell pass. Not too much HAB getting to the sign.
Bell Pass summit.
View to the north from Bell Pass.
Looking north from Bell Pass. Camelback Mtn in center.

The descent down Bell Pass is a bit of a white-knuckler for me. It starts off with some tight switchbacks then gets progressively chunkier through the mid section. By the time things mellowed out my hands & arms were worked over.

I had a fairly clean ride down and made my way up to the Gateway saddle. This trail is very popular with the hiking crowd and most of them were curious to see how far I could ride up the technical sections. I did ok, but still walked a bunch.
Gateway saddle.
From the saddle I had a bit of a reprieve in the climbing as I dropped down to Desert Park trail. Up next was my least favorite portion of the entire route: the full Windgate Pass climb. This section has become so eroded and filled with chunk over the years it barely presents a climbing challenge to me. Add in the steepness factor and it's just a HAB time trial. There are bits of rideable trail higher up, and soon enough I reached the pass where three other riders had just come up from the other side.
It was a relief to put Windgate Pass behind me.
Looking east from Windgate Pass.

My pace to this point was agonizingly slow, something like 3.6mph!! I was 5 hours in and had only covered 18 miles!! It wasn't looking good for a daylight finish. So, I called home to chat with K about a late finish and she knew how much I wanted to complete this route and told me to 'Go for it!'. I had debated about cutting out the next loop in the sake of time, but now with the green light, I was looking forward to going up East End to complete my 3-way approach to Tom's Thumb.

As I rolled down away from Windgate pass I met two riders near the Bell split. It was Eric and his buddy up from Tucson. They were enjoying the HAB for the most part and remarked how rugged the trails were, yep, welcome to the McDowells.

The lower half of East End is actually really nice. Eventually the trail kicks skyward and essentially switchbacks up a wall. Start pushing.
Up, up, up to the saddle.
Looking back down East End, the Fountain Hills fountain can be seen blasting water into the sky.
No, this is not a duplicate pic, my bike is now facing north!!
The trails at the top of Tom's Thumb are cool. Boulders everywhere...and hikers, lots of hikers. One claimed I was his hero for having my bike up there!!
Speaking of hero, hero dirt was the name of the game on the north descent. So good.

The hikers coming up the north end were really cool. They heard my brakes wailing and stepped off the trail and seemed to watch in amazement as I rolled every switchback on the way down. The loose kitty litter gravel was non-existent on this day. Even my semi-bald rear tire was gripping the terrain.

I now had a bunch of downhill, smooth, easy (free) miles to help pick up the pace. I made the nice gradual climb up Coachwhip to the Windmill junction and took a short picnic break.
Thanks Lizzy!!
I was now about to pass by the bottom of East End for the third time to make the climb 2/3 the way up towards Bell Pass. This time I'd hang a left on to Prospector trail and enjoy more downhill.
Pseudo summit of sorts, top of Prospector trail.
My next hurdle was the Sonoran trail. It starts with a fairly long sustained climb up from Dixie Mine trail, then there are a few drainage crossings with tight switchbacks. Of course there's some HAB thrown in for good measure, but overall I think it rides better in this direction.
Tacky singletrack on Sonoran!!
I can't straighten my pinky finger because of this pole. I crashed here some 5+ years ago, but that pole saved me from going down in the ravine.

I made good time through Sonoran trail and was hopeful I'd reach the top of Sunrise by 5p. The climb up Andrews-Kinsey trail was my last real effort of the ride and it's a great trail. I was actually looking forward to it.
The scenic overlook here on Andrews-Kinsey is strangely higher than Sunrise.
Awesome decent to the Sunrise trail.

I met up with Sunrise at 4:45p, still plenty of daylight!! So, I opted to head east on Sunrise to the viewpoint overlooking Hidden Hills.
Turnaround point on Sunrise.
High above Hidden Hills.

It was now time to wrap this ride up. The Sunrise downhill went by quickly, no hikers in sight on an overcast late afternoon. I took the Ringtail option to Lost Dog and made the obligatory viewpoint stop above Taliesin as light began to fade.
Lights beginning to illuminate the city, not quite ready for mine.
I only had a few miles left on Quartz trail. I made it about halfway when I finally succumbed to darkness and flipped on my lights. A short bit on Paradise trail led me out to pavement and an easy coast back to my car. Done. 6:15p.

I was a bit surprised at how good I felt overall. It was my hands/wrists that were most worked over. I guess that's what thousands of rock hits will do to you!

I'm really glad I crossed this one off my to-ride list. On to the next #locoride.

Route flyover:


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