May 13, 2011

AES Casner Mtn

Time for another AES event, number 4 for the season series, and this would end up being my longest single ride to date - 61 miles.  The route for the day would take us from the pines of Flagstaff down to the red rocks of Sedona on mostly forest roads & jeep trails with a touch of singletrack thrown in near the end.

Leaving Phoenix the day before the ride
Instead of setting up a shuttle, Seron and I carpooled with his wife supplying the ride back to the big city, can't thank her enough for doing that.  We made it up to Flagstaff Friday evening, picked up a cheap albeit smoking room, then cruised over to the Beaver Street Brewery for probably the best Oatmeal Stout I've ever had.

Our room wasn't too far from the starting point, so we decided to get a head start and ride over to Safeway to meet up with the other 18 or so riders for the day.  This was going to be my first real test at riding at altitude but I figured I had been riding quite a bit lately and should be ok, just go at my own pace I thought.  We started rolling just after 6am with a short stint on pavement before turning off onto the forest roads.  I found out quickly that I could not keep up and as I watched every last rider turn off the pavement a few hundred yards in front of me I thought for a moment 'I may be riding this one solo today'!!  I turned onto the forest road and no one could be seen, at that point I brought up the navigation of the route on my Garmin, all was well.
Photo by Seron
I love riding through the pines, it is such a contrast to the rocky/prickly desert I call home.  As I was pedaling along soaking in the views, the fresh air and solitude, I began to grow more and more uncomfortable riding.  What is going on?  I know the altitude is hurting me a bit today, but this was totally unpredicted.   Perhaps my pack wasn't loaded correctly?  It weighed in at 24lbs as I'm still trying to gauge how much of this and how much of that I really need on these long endurance rides.  I just kept riding, really had no other option, no one else was behind me and I wasn't in pain just discomfort.  It'll work itself out I thought.
Photo by Seron
I finally came upon another rider! It was Noel, and it was good to have some company for a change.  We rode together for a bit, but he started to pull away and my discomfort grew.  I finally started to think 'was something wrong with my bike?' I started scanning around coming to the realization that my seat was off center by the smallest of margins pinching a nerve in my right leg!  I stopped, adjusted my seat and viola! I felt like I was ready to RIDE!  A few more miles past and I kept a visual on Noel the whole time when we came down a long straight section to where Seron and Brian were waiting and having a snack.  The trail sweeping group had officially been reunited.  The four of us stayed together the rest of the day enjoying the views and slogging up a few climbs. 

A small section of burnout along the way

At about mile 30 the dense forest begins to give way to broad views into the surrounding wilderness areas.  The route we were on was a small ribbon of access between two Wilderness areas, the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness (RRSMW) & Sycamore Canyon Wilderness (SCW).  The views we shared on this ride are not widely enjoyed by the masses, it was quite a treat.

 Bill Williams Mtn. in the distance
 A unanimous photo op
 Ride the spine!
While standing here taking pictures, the four of us were buzzed by a couple of sparrows coming within inches of making contact - crazy!
 RRSMW - Sedona way off in the distance
 Spring blooms over SCW and the red rocks of west Sedona
 Sycamore Canyon
One of the longer climbs of the day, but I cleaned it!
Our one and only snake sighting of the day

 View of the San Francisco Peaks from our lunch spot
After lunch we had a few short climbs to the lip of the Casner Mtn. descent.  A barrage of switchbacks lead down the face of the mountain followed by more forest roads on our trek towards Sedona.  The roads were in decent shape except for a few miles of washboarding, not my favorite kind of riding for sure.
Here I am looking like I am enjoying a good HaB session!
 From which we came
 Leave your altitude at the door!

 SCW of west Sedona

 Brian leading the way
 Noel in hot pursuit
 Quite a drop after only one switchback
 We follow the powerlines for a bit then off to the upper left on forest road
 Seron negotiating an upcoming turn

 My first collared lizard sighting!  I chased this guy for about 30 yards on the trail before he bailed out to this rock
 Sedona getting closer & so is Oak Creek Brewery!
A look back at Casner Mtn.
 Finally on to the red dirt
 It took about 55 miles, but we found singletrack!!
 Sedona was in full bloom to boot

 Brian and Noel heading out
 Chimney Rock
 Noel finishing up the dirt portion of the ride,now where's the brewery?
 The finish line
What a fantastic day on the bike. The final totals were 61.24 miles and 4333' of gain on this mostly downhill ride.  A special thanks goes out to James for taking the reins on this event.  The AES continues to deliver the goods in a grassroots environment, I'm glad I am able to participate.  It is also great to share these experiences with other like-minded friends, Seron, Noel and Brian it was a pleasure riding with you on this one.  Cheers!

May 8, 2011

Picketpost - End of Trail

A few weeks ago I decided to make an attempt to ride south on the Arizona Trail from the Picketpost TH to where the construction crew were cutting in the new trail.  This new trail is a re-route around the White Canyon Wilderness which will allow mountain bike access on the AZT down to the Gila River - very cool.

  The weather was cooperating with highs forecast to around 90ยบ that day and I planned on being at the TH around 6am.  The only question I had going into this ride was how much more trail exsisted since my last ride down to the end.  On that ride it was 12.5 miles one-way, this ride would take me 15.5 miles to the end-of-trail.

View of Picketpost Mtn.
As I rode south and gained elevation I came across pockets of wildflowers still in bloom in the waning spring.

Approaching the 12.5 mile mark of the ride I really started to get excited to ride on brand new trail.  The few pictures I had seen looked amazing, I can't thank the trailbuilders enough for this incredible route.

Approaching the 12.5 mile mark
The new cut-in starting to the right of the jeep trail

Various spots along the new route

End of Trail as of May 8th, 2011

Time to take a break for lunch and enjoy the view.

These 3 shots show the constuction of the trail as it approaches from the south

Rugged terrain to build a trail

Great place for a lunch break!

End of trail view

Golden Spike shot, looks to be less than 1 mile before the two ends meet up!!

As I left my perch from lunch I had a little hike-a-bike (HAB) to do, mainly because the new trail is still very loose and thick.  I didn't mind as it wan't too long before I was back on the goods heading north to the TH.  Temps were still comfortable, water was plenty and I had a bunch of food just in case.  The return to the car only has a few climbs of note and I was mentally taking a tally of the remaining ones.  Would I still be strong enough to make a good effort?  As I approached the one albatross remaining I really wanted to make a good effort, my legs were feeling good so I just kept the pedals turning.

View of the one big climb heading north back to the TH

To my suprise the final turn came into view and I was not going to be denied.  Cleaned it all!  I was pretty stoked about that, since the last time I attempted the climb I was a beaten man and walked a bunch.

As I meandered along the trail getting closer to the car I couldn't believe that this entire day was going by and I had yet to see a soul.  I usually see a few hikers or horseback riders out here, but not today.  Fine with me.  I crested a hill and what I saw was a little disturbing, billowing smoke.  What was on fire out here?  Only a few ranches in the area.

Smoke as seen from about 5 miles out

As I got closer to the trailhead I knew the desert was burning.  Was my car ok?  Are the roads open?  I saw some flames a few hills over with about a 1/2 mile to go to the parking lot.  I really wasn't worried about my well being since I was so close to the car, but I could start to smell the thickening smoke so I picked up the pace to the TH.

1/2 mile from the parking lot

As I rolled into the parking area I became a bit more concerned as the flames were approaching 10 feet height and only about 20 yards from the front bumper of my car!!  Pack up quick & get out!!  There was another vehicle parked next to me, but no owner.  I snapped a few shots as I left for perspective.  I had to wait a few minutes in the lot for the smoke to clear - it was THICK! 

Luckily there were no injuries from this brush fire and the Boyce Thompson Arboretum was spared thanks to the help of the local fire departments.  I am very thankful that I wasn't 30 minutes later, I may have been forced to turn around and head back to FR4, some 6 uphill miles back.  That would not have been pleasant. It surely was a day of mixed emotions, the exhileration of sampling new terrain and the dismay of seeing 1300 acres of prime desert destroyed.  The desert will rebound slowly, be safe out there!