March 6, 2017

Queen's Ransom '17

I looked at the calendar a while back and thought, 'uh oh', I may have a scheduling conflict for the Queen's Ransom this year. I had made plans last year to ride the Stagecoach 400 in March, but the date hadn't been set. I like to host the QR two weeks after the 24 hours in the Old Pueblo race for better participation. The Stagecoach was announced for March 10th and the QR would be March 3-6th. That's back-to-back weekends of 215 & 400 mile rides!! I know I can do it, but would K be down with it. She was!! Have I mentioned how incredibly awesome she is when it comes to my bike riding? Not only was she cool with it, I talked her into coming out on day 3 to meet us with a car load of goodies!!

So, there it was. The dates were set, people started to chime in about tagging along and soon the day was upon us. There were some last minute conflicts with a few friends due to work stuff, but we totaled 7 riders ready to tackle what some would refer to as the AZTR Boot Camp ride. This ride is a fantastic shakedown for those lining up in April to take on the 300 or 750 mile Arizona Trail Race. Everyone in our group had either completed the 300/750 or had aspirations to do so this year.
Greenbelt rollout to get things warmed up.
Josh passed the first test of the day by not falling into the canal.
Death of a sock monkey.
Fish tacos for dinner?? Photo by Arunas
About 20 miles into the ride we came to Desert Trails Bike Park. A good place to grab an early snack and get yourself sorted out for the day. Plus, if you're feeling frisky, there are a few jump lines you can launch your bikepacking rig off of.

Jeff floating across the teeter-totter.
In years past I told the group to ride at their own pace from here as we were about to hit trail for the first time. This year was a bit different. One of our riding friends, Shawn, aka Mr. Beerduro, lives nearby and only a few feet from the route. He offered us some adult treats if we stopped by his place since he was working from home. How could we resist?

We rolled up to his place almost on time and were promptly shown the plate full of bacon, tub of orange slices and jug of whiskey!! Yeah, this is going to be all right.
The Queen's Ransom is officially a bikepacking party!!
Delayed group start shot at Shawn's, 28 miles into our day. L-R: Nancy, Jeff, Mike, Me (John), Josh, Arunas & Curtis.

A huge thanks to Shawn for opening his house to us and setting the tone for the day. Much appreciated by all. Now it was time for singletrack fun.
Arunas came all the way from Lithuania to ride his 55lb rigid 29+ bike here. Most of that statement is true.
Nancy? Gears? Surely you jest.
Josh carving a small slice of Hawes.
Curtis on his maiden bikepacking voyage!!
Red Mountain would dominate our view for a few hours. Photo by Mike.

Wildflowers were popping throughout the Hawes trails.
What is this? My lucky day, as I found 6 of these and some jellybeans along the way thanks to Curtis & Nancy dropping treats!!
Near the halfway point and cold water at the Pass Mtn. trailhead.

Fast miles through Usery Mtn park pointed us towards the Superstition Mtns.
Primitive singletrack of the Goldfield Mtns.
This area has so much potential.
Curtis & Arunas assume the position.
Josh taking the HAB in stride.
Time for the payoff!!
Why not?

Into the clown's mouth we go: Jacob Crosscut trail was next. 
The kinder, gentler side of Jacob Crosscut trail. Photo by Mike.

A vastly improved Jacob Crosscut trail, still technical in bits, but much more bike friendly.

It was now late afternoon and we could start craving the food & drink at De La Cruz Mexican Grille in Gold Canyon. The paved miles ticked away, but when we arrived we were told our party of 7 couldn't be accommodated due to a wedding reception!! Gah! Nancy persisted and asked if we could split into groups of 3 & 4, next thing we knew an indoor table of 7 magically opened for us. I'm so glad we didn't have to resort to Subway for dinner.
Mike was really stoked we snagged a table at De La Cruz. Photo by Arunas

The gang's all here!! Photo by Curtis.

Dinner refreshments and it was happy hour too.
 I had contacted the folks at Don's Camp a few months prior to get a reservation for our first night's camp, but was told the Forest Service had rented the place out. I reluctantly found a rocky clearing inside the Gold Canyon trails large enough for 12+ riders. Since our group was only 7, I decided to switch it up and camp back atop the Vortex like I had done a couple years earlier. It's a fantastic spot and much closer to the shopping center. We were already approaching 70 miles on the day and daylight fading rapidly. Plus, I wanted the first time Gold Canyon riders to see the trails instead of riding through at night.
The kitchen sink bikepacking rig!!
We stocked up at Basha's, put on the lights and made our way over to the Gold Canyon trails. A quick team effort to hoist our bikes over a barbed wire fence made the task quite easy, there is a gate 3/4 mile up the road for simple access if needed. A few miles later and one missed turn due to stolen signage, we arrived atop the Vortex for the night.
Incredible view to wake up to.
We had ample space up top for our group and I was glad we were riding the Gold Canyon trails in daylight.
Mike enjoying the scenery.
Thick carpet of grass on the desert floor this year.
Josh taking the plunge for Arunas's video.
The gang rolling into the retirement community of Queen Valley.
A burrito for now and one for later. Good call Mike. Photo by Arunas
Curtis was last off the Vortex, but manged to pass by the group by taking other trails in Gold Canyon. He was waiting, snacks in hand, at the Fitz Stop convenience store. This would be our last resupply for food for the next 48 hours. Everyone stocked up on food & water as it was now getting warm. I was feeling a bit sluggish and knew the final 18 miles on the Arizona Trail were going to be a slog for me.

Arunas can't wait to hit the AZT!! Photo by Mike.

Shade break on the AZT. I needed all the good luck I could muster.
Perhaps I'll just take a nap instead. Photo by Arunas
The group slowly spread out as we worked our way south from Picketpost. I joked with Mike that I only needed to maintain a 3 mph average to reach camp by nightfall. Little did I know...
Picketpost TH has seen it's fair share of emotions from weary riders & hikers alike. Photo by Arunas's camera.
Curtis practicing his pose as well. Photo by Curtis's camera.

Curtis riding the contouring trail south of Picketpost.
The towering west face of Picketpost Mtn.
Moonrise above the south face.

Arunas carving through the rocks.
Josh riding into a postcard.
Over the next few miles I kept bumping into friend after friend riding the trail back towards Picketpost. Some were doing an out-n-back ride, others were doing the burly Kelvin to Picketpost route. Either way it was a great day to be out on the AZT and each encounter made me momentarily forget how bad I was struggling.
Rockstar sighting as we took a snack break. Kata was having none of my Vienna Sausage handup offering!!
Cactus carnage.
Deep in the pain cave. Photo by Josh.

One of Rob's newly installed super gates.
Talk about trail magic, two unmarked gallons of water just when I needed a splash.
George & Todd heading north. Both planned on making the big ride, but work got in the way.
The shadows grow long entering Martinez Canyon.
Josh reminding me how small we really are out here.
Ghostly shapes under a brilliant sky.
Pure rugged beauty. 
Martinez Canyon selfie by Curtis.

Josh heads across the Martinez saddle.
Some trails simply have better views than others.
4 1/2 miles of mostly downhill trail to camp from here, but the light is fading quickly.
I crossed a wash and happened to look up...there he is!! The 2 thumbs up cactus.
I was the last one into camp by a few minutes, but never pulled out the lights.

I was ready to get horizontal and needed some calories. Jeff got a campfire going and it was a perfect way to cap off another stellar day of riding. Well, at least until my legs cramped!! Wow, that was some kind of pain. We all had a few pesky mosquitoes bugging us during the night, I didn't sleep well at all.
Winding down the evening.
Curtis was up early and hit the trail at daybreak, his wife was picking him up in Kelvin as he could only get away for 2+ days. It was great to have him out testing his gear for the AZT300 in a few weeks. I look forward to seeing him marked as a 'finisher' next month!!

For the rest of us, we knew we still had half a day of work leading up to a rendezvous with K atop the Florence-Kelvin climb. Cold drinks & treats were waiting, time to get moving.
Sunrise over Dale's Butte.
Filtering water at a swollen Gila River.
The rolling hills of the Gila.
Quite the contrast in the river basin.
Doing some work down by the Gila. Photo by Arunas

The closer we rode towards Kelvin, the better the wildflower show.
Although the trail follows the river for over 16 miles, it's rarely seen. Arunas approves of this sighting.
One of two mechanicals the entire ride, Curtis broke a spoke and Mike punctured a tire. Each was only a minor setback. Photo by Arunas

Bike nap in the cooler temps.
Classic overlook near Kelvin.
Even in drier years, this area is often a highlight to ride through.
Whoa!! AZTR pioneer, Tim. Very cool running into him.
Yes, Mike is on a trail!!
Entering Kelvin.
Josh, waiting on a friend...or two. Photo by Curtis.

New spigot at the ADOT yard in Kelvin.
The best part about the trail between the Kelvin trailheads, is the flower display.
The upper portion of the trail has seen some work done making it more bike friendly.
Mike & Josh making the grind up the Florence-Kelvin climb.

My Ergon seat was really starting to bother me. I had to stand often to relieve the pressure of the heavier pack on my backside. I was seriously considering ditching it for the Stagecoach400 the following weekend, but in the meantime all I could think about were the margaritas & donuts waiting for us at the top of the climb.

We all rolled into the SAG stop within an hour of each other. It was great to see K and she was enjoying doling out the treats to everyone. She went above & beyond on this one bringing Cokes, Mtn. Dews, Gatorades, Bosa Donuts, margaritas, ice, pickles, chips & salsa and regular salty chips. Perfect.
6 very happy bikepackers!! Thanks K!!
The SAG stop is well positioned too, it marks the last real effort of the entire loop and begins a mostly downhill 10+ mile ride to camp 3 near Area 52. I had room in my pack, so I lugged the second margarita bottle along for the evening. Jeff snagged some cups and we were set.
'See that spire over there? That's where we camped last night.' Photo by Mike.

A rare uphill moment and a peek across the valley into the Gila River Canyons, site of camp 2.
Area 52 on the left, South Butte to the right.

Now THAT is a fire pit.

We found a nice slice of wash up against the rocks for camp 3.
Found at Area 52. Any ideas?? Photo by Mike.

Arunas casting his line.
It was a relaxing evening at camp, then Jeff dropped the olives!! Gah!
Everyone enjoying the downtime at camp 3. Photo by Arunas

Snap, crackle, pop!!

Thankfully, there were no bugs bothering us on this night and I slept much better.

I decided to change things up a bit this year and not actually ride in Area 52. It's not really a place for bikepacking rigs, but if someone wants to play on the rocks there is plenty of time at the end of day 3 to explore if they choose.

Instead, the next morning we took the rocky bypass route around the north end of 52 on our way towards Florence.
South Butte towering above us in the early morning glow.
Josh powering up the cobbles of the bypass route.
Tunnel vision.
Mike & Arunas in an impromptu hill-climb challenge!!
I think the climb was a tie!! Photo by Mike.

Somebody is stoked!!
The diverted Gila River.
Crossing at the gauging station.
Open farmland approaching Florence.
We made such good time getting to Florence, McD's was only serving breakfast!! It was 9:40a and we only had 40 miles of mostly fast, flat terrain left. I was liking our chances for an early afternoon finish, giving the gang the opportunity to hang out for a post-ride celebration of sorts.
Getting back on route...something's going up in flames.
'F' for Florence on Poston Butte.
Following the fiber optic line north towards Walker Butte. 'C' is for Coolidge.
A few miles of dirt shoulder riding into San Tan Valley.
Not my neighborhood, yet. Just a cut through to more dirt roads leading to San Tan Regional Park.
Time to try our luck in the sand pit of Rock Peak Wash.
Nancy showing how it's done. The wash was mostly rideable for a change.
Hang loose, brah.
The big city comes into view descending Dynamite trail.
Jeff & Josh cresting the high point of Dynamite.
Almost 2 miles of downhill bliss to end the dirt portion of the ride.
Creek Side Taco Shack in Queen Creek was the perfect ending to the ride.
Did I mention we arrived during Happy Hour?
One flip or one pedal stroke for us.
Mike, Josh, Nancy, Jeff, Me & Arunas celebrating a great 4 days out on the bike.

We rolled the final mile over to my place to cap off the ride officially and it was barely 4p. Thanks to everyone for coming out, I had a blast sharing the route with all of you.

A special thanks to K & Shawn for providing extra stoke in the form of food & beverages along the way.

Mark you calendar for next year: March 2-5, 2018

Going forward, all Queen's Ransom finishers will receive one of these fine patches!! *All past year's finishers have theirs in hand!!

Stickers are available at the Storefront.
Route profile can purchased as a poster, stickers or mug via Redbubble.
Screensavers of the route profile may be found via Payhip.


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