January 28, 2012

AES - Antelope Peak Challenge 65

The plan for this weekend was to really challenge myself. On Sat. I would ride the AES Antelope Peak Challenge 65 mile version, then on Sunday I would ride the annual Quad Bypass in the McDowell Mtns. The grand total for the weekend was looking to be around 103 miles & 16k of climbing. Big effort for sure.

On Friday I went ahead and converted the 29er over to tubeless, so that would be my ride of choice. Too many prickly bits and a very remote stretch of trail pretty much required the absence of tubes.

Saturday morning Seron and I arrived at the start with plenty of time for ride prep. It was a bit chilly for the start, so I wore my arm warmers & full finger gloves to get rolling. The beginning of this ride has a 15 mile neutral start, roughly 6 miles of dirt road then another 9 on pavement over near the town of Oracle.
The first long ride on the 29er. Photo by Seron

Fueled by beer. Photo by Seron
A short climb on Tiger Mine Rd. to the grand entrance of the Arizona Trail and the 'race' was on.
The AZT off of Tiger Mine Rd.
Ready to roll onto the AZT. Photo by ??? with Seron's camera.
The first few miles were a series of loose hill crossings, climb a bit, drop down some switchbacks and repeat. There were a few HAB sections, but nothing major more just a change of pace. I also wanted to conserve energy not only for the day, but for Sunday as well.
Yes, that's the trail. Very primitive in spots.

Seron and another rider make their way up some swichbacks.

Then out of nowhere it happened....snap!
Definitely NOT on the day's agenda

Shortly after leaving Seron, I climbed this ridge and you can spot him near the center if you look closely.
At mile 25 Seron's rear hanger broke and set the derailleur & chain into the bike breaking the derailluer. We spent the next 45 minutes trying to get the bike into SS mode, but the chainwould not cooperate. It was either too loose or too tight. He finally made the call to abandon the ride & turn around with hopes of catching a ride back to the start/finish area. I went ahead and pushed on. The next 17 miles or so was pure AZT, fantastic desert views, follow the contours of the land, arrive atop a ridgeline, descend and repeat.
One of the few mini Ripsey segments along the way.

I've been riding for a while now, why does Antelope Peak still look so SMALL!?!?

This particular area was a bit hard to follow the trail, a couple of overshoots were had.
Finally arrived to Bloodsucker Wash, time for a snack.

After a short dirt road section, Beehive Ranch came into view. Should be a reliable water source for the AZT300

Antelope Peak finally beginning to look close among the thick stand of prickly pear cactus.

Now we're getting somewhere!

Riding around the NE flank of Antelope Peak, I really wanted to do the hike to the summit, but the day was already growing long, little did I know at the time just how long.
Shortly after passing AP the trail dumps out onto a dirt road, then 1 mile later meets up with another well graded one, Freeman Rd. This is where the 115 mile course continues north on the AZT & the 65 milers stay on Freeman Rd. I made a quick pitstop at the newly placed water cabinet to top off my bottles, hook up my external GPS charger (low battery warning had just come on) then continue onward.
AZT Freeman Rd. water cache
 I no sooner plugged in my charger while trying to configure a good way on the handlebars to view the display when...pop! The plug on the charger began to separate!! Nnooooo!! I knew I would need the GPS for the upcoming Painter Boy section of trail, this had to keep working!! I had to scrap the handlebar mount ideas & put the GPS in my pocket with hopes that the unit would continue to charge.

As I was getting set to leave the water cache, Neil, one of the 115 milers, came rolling through! He may have had a 3 hour head start, but he also did 50 more miles than myself at this point. He was riding strong as he blew past me on Willow Springs Rd. finishing high in the standings.

Back on the road I heard my GPS beep and I pulled over to check on it....blank screen!! The unit powered off & when I booted it back up all my data was gone! Knowing the Garmin, the ride to this point was saved as a separate track, so I simply re-loaded the course & started up again with hopes that both tracks would be there. I would simply merge them together with Topofusion to get the full ride data. Back to the task at hand, find the Painter Boy trail before the sun sets or bypass it for a faster less risky finish.

I reached to point on Willow Springs Rd. where the cue sheets had you look for a faint trail through what had been described as a 'vague' area. This was approximately a 1.5 mile test at route finding to the Painter Boy trail and the sun was still up so I went for it.  By way of GPS & the cue sheet I made my way past all the clues, yellow police tape hung by Scott was very helpful in spots. There was even a spot where I had to crawl through a small opening in a barbed wire fence only to be led into a football field sized area of head high catclaw!!
At least by being last I had some tracks to follow.

Yellow tape marking the spot on the other side of the barbed wire where the faint singletrack began.

This is what vague faint singletrack looks like
Dusk was setting in, but now I was on Painter Boy with only one 'easy-to-miss' turn to navigate. This section was only 2.6 miles long & joined up with the superhighway known as the 24 hour course, which we pre-rode the week before.  I made it past the sketchy turn thanks to more yellow tape, but it was time to break out the lights for the finish push.

As soon as I plugged in my light battery (I'm sure I had a surprised look on my face) when I saw the power meter registering about 50% of charge!! Magicshine lights are pretty bright even on low, so with only about 3 miles to go according to the cue sheets, I figured I'd have plenty of juice left. Time to get moving.  The 8" wide crushed granite ribbon of Earth was fairly easy to navigate sans a few overshot turns here & there. Then 10 minutes into my lighted ride....BOOM! Front tire blowout. Drag. I'm pretty certain I didn't hit anything, tire looked clean, must have lost the bead on the tubeless setup.  As I began to change the tire over to a tubed setup, the coyotes were in full throat off in the distance, very surreal. Darkness set it quick now, tire was inflated & I had less than 1 mile to go to the 24hr course. A few times along the way the trail would disappear, leaving me searching with my headlamp through the darkness. Only after backtracking a few feet I would spot the sharp turn I missed. Then after almost a mile since my flat I came around a corner and there they were...COWS!! A small herd of black cows had gathered around the trail for the night and I was crashing their party!! After a short commotion they parted my path and I moved on, less than a minute later I was on the 24 hour course - Hooray!

To my surprise the GPS was still holding a good charge & I was now on familiar territory or so I thought. I had 1/2 of the climb up Sassy to the saddle then a fun one mile descent to the 24 hr. start/finish area. I could just barely make out the silhouette of the saddle as I climbed the friendly grade. Cruising along my light power meter was now aglow in red, which means little juice is left and a few minutes later the light began a flickering dance actuated by bumps in the trail. The battery was rapidly dying, going from a bright LED emission to what I'll call riding by candlelight - tough for the eyes to adjust quickly. I found that if I bounced my rear wheel during candlelight sessions full power would resume until the next jolt. This scenario lasted all the way down to the 'option' area near the start/finish area and I was not about to ride down the rock face in my current state so I opted for the bypass. I was very glad to be rolling into the start/finish area, one last curve...COW!!! I narrowly missed running right into a large black cow standing on the trail and by narrow I mean 2-3 feet!! I yelled at the top of my lungs and the bovine took an about face & high tailed it off the trail. Whew.

A quick stop to check the cue sheet, left on road 0.1 mi, right on trail 0.1 mi, then a left on His/Her trail for 0.4 miles to the car - almost done. I made all the turns in the dim light then just zoned out over the pedal strokes, next thing I knew I had been riding for a good 10 minutes. Shouldn't I have come to the car by now? I stopped to check the cue sheet again, sure enough I must have over shot the parking area I thought, jeez. I turned around riding for what seemed like 15 minutes, missing the trail I entered His/Her on, then I could see I was riding towards the glow of Tucson. This isn't right I thought. GPS still had me on course, but I knew that since I loaded the route with the bonus 1/2 lap of the 24hr. course. I just didn't know where on the course I was in relation to where the car was parked!! With the GPS & light on life support, I knew I had to figure something out QUICK or I would be spending the night among the cholla & cold desert air. I finally dumped out onto a clearing under some power lines which I figured corresponded to the 'bitches' segment a bit to the north. I could see the sparkling lights of Oracle off to the SE & opted to follow the powerlines back in that direction. By doing so I'd either cross Willow Springs Rd or reach Rt.77 either of which would get me to the car. After a mile or so on the powerline rd. I check for cell coverage & had full range, called Seron and we chuckled a bit that I was disoriented on the easiest part of the course!! He hopped in the car & drove down Willow Springs Rd. to meet where I thought I'd pop out, but of course the powerline rd. dropped me directly into the parking lot where all the post-ride festivities were going down! Scott was there to great me, 'Are you John?, Seron just left to find you'. We all had a good laugh at my final few 'bonus' miles, interesting way to end a truly epic day out on the trail.

We hung out for a bit after I rolled in, then embarked on our 1 1/2 hour drive back to Phoenix. I finally hit the sack around midnight with the alarm set to rouse my carcass at 530. Was I really thinking about riding the Quad Bypass on Sunday?

The alarm chirped, then chirped again after a snooze, but I dragged myself out of bed and gathered my things for another long day in the saddle. This would be no slouch of a ride either, 32 miles & 7000' of climbing. I figured I'd show up, give it a go & see how my legs felt. If I was too drained I could easily shorten the ride after the Bell Pass descent. A few of my riding buddies were pretty surprised/stoked to see me at the starting area, for that matter I was too. Let's go!!
41 riders turned out, photo by Walt.
My speedy friend, Chuck, at the forefront. Proof I did ride, 3rd rider. Photo by Walt.
The ride only has about 1 mile of what you'd call a roll-out or warm up, then the climbing begins as you ascend the Gateway trail. I was feeling pretty good, the 29er just felt right and I kept a good pace going through a mile of the climb. It was about then I could feel my front tire going soft, ah drat. I pulled off to the shoulder and sure enough the front had gone flat. I changed out the tube, checking the tire for thorns (found two!), pumped it up and I could hear it still leaking. Yet another reminder of why I converted to tubeless a few months ago. I was really bummed, my legs actually felt good (could it have been the CarboRocket333 + Fluid recovery drink? Perhaps.), but I wasn't about to fiddle with tube issues over the next 30 miles so I called it a day. I couldn't even get enough air to hold in the tire, so I had to walk back to the car. I guess I now have a challenge for next year.  All in all it was a great weekend of riding & lessons learned. Two months to go before the AZT300 trail race!!
According to my formula DNF>DNS!!
At least Chuck gave me a sweet beer sign!!

January 26, 2012

29 > 26

Seems obvious enough. Thanks to social media & my friend, Harry, I now am part of the 29er revolution. It's really amazing how much confidence you gain when you're on a trusty steed.  Nothing against my FS26, it's just a different feel and that bike could use a few upgrades most notably a new pair of forks. The 26er will still see some dirt from time to time, but I can assure you the Voodoo Dambala 29er HT will get most of it. I've taken it out the past 3 days on the local stomping ground that is South Mountain and I'm blown away at the amount of obstacles I can now clean!! More rideable terrain = a more stoked rider!! So here's to the Jamis Dakar FS26, cheers! It's been a great 2 1/2 years. Bring on more terrain.
1/2 new, 1/2 used 2005 Jamis Dakar

Freshly acquired Voodoo Dambala 29er, eventually to become a SS.

January 7, 2012

AZT - Jamboree

January means it's time for the AZT Jamboree charity ride. In it's 3rd year now, 2nd for me, and one of my favorite events.  This year there were just under 100 riders enjoying some of the best stretches of the AZT.  A huge thanks to Southwest Trekking for offering up their services & shuttles, the volunteers of SDMB for setting up and hosting the awesome support tent about halfway through the ride (mini pizzas, muffins, pickles, oranges, chips, Heed, water, soda, beer...wow!) and of course Chad Brown for his instrumental role in pulling this all together.

As for the ride, there was a small course change, more singletrack!! A nice 3 mile re-route off of a rugged jeep road that also lead to many a missed turn last year & one nasty HAB section.  This year we also opted to NOT go down to Cienega Creek and find our way through the 3 bridges area, took the road this year. Our overall time was a whopping 2 hours faster this year, in part to the course changes & overall better riding endurance.

Such a fun event and we get to give back to one of the greatest trails in the land. Already looking forward to 2013.
The drop zone

Heading towards the AZT turnoff. Photo by Seron

Superb rolling grasslands to start the ride. Photo by Seron

The first 6 miles or so share the Kentucky Camp route.

Endless views abound.

Snow high up on Mt. Wrightson. Photo by Seron

Another fantastic winter ride in AZ! Photo by Seron

I'm really diggin' Seron's new camera, some cool effects. Photo by Seron

Luckily we didn't have to ride too close to the prickly pear this year. Photo by Seron

This could be an album cover. Photo by Seron

One of the many long flowy downhill runs.

A section of new trail from last year.

Our view for lunch, part of a new 3 mile re-route.

Outskirts of Tucson beginning to appear.

Are those mini-pizzas?!?! Yes!! Thanks SDMB. Photo by Seron

The glow of good fortune basks the lone rider as he approaches from beneath I-10....

Or not.  It's a good 2' drop into some deep sand albeit soft, but no match for salsa in the backpack!

Our route this year - ride OVER the bridge.

A final water stop at the Colossal Cave campground.

January 1, 2012

Hieroglyphic Canyon Trail

Ahhh, 80ยบ New Year's Day in Phoenix, time to go for a hike. I do a fair amount of mountain biking over in Gold Canyon, but there's one trail by our riding network that runs into the Superstition Wilderness - so NO BIKES. The Hieroglyphic Canyon Trail is a 1.6 mile gentle incline up towards the towering Superstition Mountains where there are ample opportunities to admire ancient artwork on the surrounding terrain.  There was also a small flowing spring that turned the viewing into a true desert oasis. Really cool hike with amazing views.
Fork in the trail, Hieroglyphic to the left, Lost Goldmine to the right

No Bikes in the Wilderness

Towering cliffs of the Superstition Mtns.

Thriving algae.

Great place to relax.

Great views of the valley below.

The elusive desert marshmallow santa.

Even downtown could be seen today!