March 25, 2012

AZT - Boulders/Ripsey Bikepack

The time finally arrived for my first bikepacking trip. Where to go? For once, that decision was pretty easy. A few of us were originally going to drive down to the 24hr course and ride the AES APC115 course over a two day period. Then my buddy, Jonathan (J-Bake), who lives nearby suggested an alternate starting point that made more sense. We would now meet up where the Arizona Trail, AZT, crosses Freeman Rd. This put us almost in the middle of the 115 mile course right next to the AZT water cache. The new plan called us to ride the northern lollipop, 52 miles, along the Boulders/Ripsey segments first, campout, then ride the southern loop, 70-ish miles, including a spur through Oracle then onto the Antelope Peak segment.

The night before heading down, Seron was still waiting on a replacement for a cracked chainstay, so he was out. Then Jonathan chimed in that he was a no-go for Sat.  as well. So, Chris and I decided that we really needed to scout some of the route along with re-supply points near Oracle for the AZT300. We packed up & headed south a little behind schedule Sat. morning.

Driving south from Superior is quite the contrast in views, on one hand there are the towering cliffs and canyons as you drop down to the Gila River, while at the same time you are driving past some of the largest open pit copper mines known to man. There's a raw rugged beauty in this part of the state. We soon found ourselves in Dudleyville looking for the connector to Freeman Rd. A few backtracks and fiddling with my GPS had us on the right path. We didn't realize we were going to have to drive through the San Pedro River!! Luckily the flow was down and we splashed Chris' truck through the clear running water.
This guy was guarding Freeman Rd.
10 miles of dirt later we were at the water cache. We started unpacking and loaded up the bikes. Although we'd be sleeping 50' from the truck, everything we needed for a remote campsite was going with us. I began putting bags on the bike, handlebars/sling, seat....where are my straps? Dig, dig, dig. Ah, crap! I left them in my car back in Gold Canyon, drat. Time to test out the new long one I was going to use as additional support. I rigged it up and it worked out fine. Then as I'm putting my framebag on, one of the missing seatbag straps magically attached itself to some of the velcro on the framebag - sweet! By dumb luck I was only down one strap, no worries. Ok, it's time to roll. Dang, it's already just past 10:30a and at our typical 5mph pace we were staring a nighttime finish right in the eyes. No problem, I have my lights. Chris? Oops, he forgot his, but had a small hiking light. Let's go.

Loaded & ready to roll.

The start a grand adventure.

Cool counter-weighted gate.

It's not called the Boulders segment for nothing.

Chris looking like a veteran bikepacker.

We stopped to scout out Bathtub Spring on our descent to Ripsey Wash, the bees sure were thirsty!

At the top of The Big Hill.

The Hayden stacks in the distance.

For all your climbing effort this is the payoff, Chad Brown declares this the best ridgeline in AZ!! I concur.

Look closely and you'll see a thin slice of dirt climbing up to the left of the frame. That slice is the 4.5 mile climb up the Florence-Kelvin Hwy or F-K Hwy as I now refer to it.

Globemallows in bloom.

The Sonoran desert comes alive this time of year with a breathtaking array of color. Here golden poppie and lupines fight for superiority.

A new AZT trailhead is in the works for the Kelvin area.

Finally at the top of the F-K Hwy, whew!

Desert sunset are really tough to beat, it seems like we get ones like this 4-5 times per week.
We chatted with a couple of hikers we passed earlier in the day, wished them well on their journey to Kelvin the next day then continued putting miles under our tires until the sun fell below the horizon. We stopped to put on my lights with about 10 miles to go back to camp, but on the fast flowy Boulders segment. I would light the way & Chris would follow close behind. It worked well for the most part, only one endo by Chris. It was sometime around 8:30p with only a couple miles to go when we both spotted a black dog running around under the cover of a few mesquite trees. That's odd, we thought. I squealed my brakes while dropping into a wash while simultaneously picking up the dog owners' tent nearby! We obviously startled them and I shouted my apologies as we rolled along.

Finally back at camp, we were both exhausted. The ride ended up being a 10 hour day and it was almost 9p. We still had to cook up some grub before turning in for the night. The only real cheating we did with the truck nearby was to dive into the cooler for a couple of cold ones. How couldn't we, right?

We settled in for the night dozing off under the sparkle of a star filled desert sky and the faint howling of a pack of coyotes.
My bedroom for the night, next to the Freeman Rd. water cache.
The next morning as I lay in the sleeping bag I hear a vehicle approach. It slows to a has a mountain bike up's J-Bake!! He's decided to finally do the Ripsey loop after a long time of finding reasons/excuses to NOT do it. He also did two remarkable things: 1) Brought us each a slice of supreme pizza from AJ's!! 2) Channeled his inner extreme couponer into 20 gallons of water for the cache!! We had added 6 the day before, so I helped him clear out the empties and we stocked the shelves. Jonathan was eager to get rolling so we didn't hold him up, soon he was off on his own adventure for the day. We were mulling our route plans as well.

We came to our senses and decided the 70 mile ride would not be a good idea on this day. It was already closing in on 9am, we hadn't really packed our things up yet, Chris was without lights and my battery was now near 50% of power. We opted for the safe choice and focused on the 13 mile loop down by Oracle. There was some new-to-us AZT to check out along with scouting for water sources and checking on store locations/hours.

We started our ride near the Circle K that will be used as a re-supply point during the AZT300. The first few miles were on a mix of pavement & jeep road. We turned off the jeep road onto the AZT and what a hoot! Downhill grade, waterbar hopping all the way. The bottom of the hill spilled us into a place I recognized from a few photos over the years.
So this is the AZT sign I'm always seeing!!
 Soon after this picture we were riding along a hilly section of trail when we came upon 3 hikers up ahead. As we passed by one of them yells out 'I know you!!' I stop to turn around not fully recognizing the fellow in the wide brimmed hat. He says to his wife 'This is the crazy guy at work I told you about'. Ha!Ha! Rob!?!? What are you doing down here? He had just embarked on his personal bucket list of hiking/biking/horseback riding the entire Arizona Trail. This was his first passage, the shortest of the 43 at 8.3 miles. Good place to start. We chatted a few more minutes then were on our way once more.
Chris enjoying the hills of Oracle State Park.

Grinding it out on the SS.

The Kanally Ranch house.

Reliable water source!!

We arrived at the Kanally Ranch house in search of a water spigot, as luck would have it a park volunteer showed up minutes later and directed us right to it. The park is currently open only on Saturdays, but she confirmed to us that the water source would be available to AZT racers in a couple of weeks. We finished out the ride after a quick stop by the Oracle Market, good store hours, and a Red Bull.

A few things I learned on this outing: bikepacking is where its at. I need to thoroughly go through my gear list a couple of times and narrow down what I really need. Weight is a big factor out there. The bike handles great, just different. It's quite a bit faster on the downhills due to the added weight. Thanks Chris for making this a memorable adventure, we are first time bikepackers no more!!

March 22, 2012

DC Loaded

As the countdown clock nears zero for the start of the AZT300 I was in dire need to test out my setup. I finally have amassed the necessary gear for this event along with bikepacking in general. I thought it would be a cool idea to roll out on a coast-to-coast Desert Classic, DC, ride over at South Mountain. DC is a very popular trail with hikers, bikers and the rare equestrian. I figured I'd generate some curious looks.
Empty - 29lbs, loaded - 42lbs. Thanks to my sis-in-law for the awesome framebag, a new one is on the way that fits this frame. The bag in this picture was intended for my blue Jamis.

A special thanks to Michelle for putting together a very cool handlebar sling.

More kudos to Andy's mom for stitching up this dry bag so I could attach straps to it.

Tons of things up front: shifters, lockout switch, bell, GPS & a feed bag.

As long as I take care in centering the bag in the sling it doesn't shift over the often bumpy/rocky terrain.
I had a few people ask me if I was training for an upcoming trip, so I spread the word about the AZT300. I'm still a bit surprised how most people don't really know about the Arizona Trail.  Overall, the bike handled very well, a bit more sluggish in the turns, not really harder just different. I ended up doing the out-n-back 18 miles in about 1:45, which I thought was really good since I was just riding, not pushing for a fast time. A few more test rides before April 13th & I think I'll be ready to go, or at least as ready as I'll ever be.

March 18, 2012

Graupel Effect

Sometime during my Black Canyon Trail ride my wife sent me a text about it hailing in Queen Creek. I didn't think too much about it, we get hail storms from time to time. As I'm pulling into our neighborhood I could tell this one was different, way different. There was a 3 foot snowman in someone's driveway!
Still pretty impressive after melting a bit.
There were still a few patches of soft hail or graupel, as I found out, piled around. Luckily I had left the camera at home and K snapped a few really good shots during the storm. Cool winter wonderland in the Sonoran desert.
Good thing I took a ton of wildflower pics the weekend before, they got shredded!

Reminds me of back home in PA!

I don't own a snow shovel. Never will.

Slightly larger than a pea, but soft like a mini snowball.

In the aloe.

It took a couple of hours to finally all melt.

Poor little fella.


I was planning on a nice back-to-back riding weekend, do the Picketpost to Kelvin ride on Sat then take the Gnar Gnar shuttle up the Black Canyon Trail, BCT, with a co-worker, Greg, for a 36 mile spin. The weather had other ideas. The wind began to pick up during our Sat. ride, but wasn't really an issue. Greg and I decided earlier in the week we'd go for it rain or shine. It's not often you get to test out rain gear here in AZ, so why not? By most accounts the BCT drains well. We were warned to stay away from the northernmost section due to sticky mud, no problem definitely didn't want any of that action.

We rose early, met up, then continued our hour long trek to Rock Springs to meet the shuttle at 8am. By 8:15 we were still the only ones in the parking lot and were having our doubts. The rain had let up, but it was still overcast. We called the shuttle & found out they decided to cancel for the day & we already on our way by the time that call was made. So, we altered our route for the day, heading south from the trailhead to ride the Skyline/Cheapshot segments. We were going to ride down to the top of the Little Pan Loop & turn around there for a nice 18 miles or so. This was Greg's first visit to the BCT so I was eager to hear his thoughts on the trail.

Snow all around.
The trail was firm, tacky and ready for some rippin'! We had checked on the flow of the Agua Fria River online & it was showing a significant spike in flow after the rains, but when we drove over it on I-17 there was nothing?!?! Our route would take us down to the river just after 1 mile so we'd find out soon enough. The crossing was a piece of cake, we were able to ride right through without getting our shoes wet. On the Cheapshot decent the rain began to fall mixed in with some hail, time to break out the parka! It was pretty fun experiencing different riding conditions, we often get so spoiled out here with the sunshine and dry climate that weather forecasts rarely matter.
Agua Fria river about a mile into the ride.

Top of the Skyline climb.

Ready for some downhill?

Dressed for wet.
We were really enjoying the velcro trail, I told Greg 'one more short section to go until the top of the loop, then we'll turn around'. No problem, right? It's only a little over a mile. About a half mile into it some cows had come down off the hill and used the trail for a bit tearing it to shreds. As we rolled onto the roto-tilled earth I could immediately feel my wheels gunking up. Nooooo!! Too late.
It only took a few seconds to turn a great day into a muckfest.
The trampled trail was only about 200 yards long, but the damage was done. We were almost at the turnaround point, but we surely would not be coming back this way. At least we had a jeep road option to circle back around. Unfortunately, the first section of jeep road was also a big pile of cookie dough mud!!
The 4-wheelers were enjoying the mud, we were not.

 We walked, pushed, carried our bikes for a bit, scraping mud off when we could until the jeep road became rideable. We finally made it back to the good part of the trail and spent the next 15-20 minutes picking off as much mud as we could before heading back. We soon came upon a wash crossing that had a few pools of water, nice, now we could at least clean the tires fairly well. From that point onward the ride was as stellar as the beginning. All told it took about 1 1/2 hours to go about 2 miles in the muck.
Practicing track stands in the mud??

The beautiful contours of the BCT.

Trail snake?

Greg flyin' down the Skyline segment.

Agua Fria beach.

Looks like the weather is breaking.

Love the mountain bike approved cattle guards.

No dust on this day!