November 25, 2012

San Tan: Dynamite Trail

This past weekend I made it out to the San Tan Regional Park twice, once on the mountain bike and another for a hike. Both days were spent entering the park on the new-ish Dynamite Trail off the Goldmine Trailhead.

The mountain bike ride I did was a short loop through the park but rode from home some 7 miles away. San Tan doesn't seem to get a lot of love locally, I can see why as there are so many other incredible riding spots locally. To be fair San Tan is a really fun place to ride if all you want is a fast flowy scenic trail experience. I think the biggest detractor is the sand. I'd guess at least 40% of the park is unridable due to trails following sandy washes. The center figure 8 of the park is a blast and now has a super fun climb/descent combo getting into it all.

The Dynamite trail is roughly 2.5 miles long tying into the San Tan Trail. It seems like it was built with mountain bikers in mind. The grade is very friendly and allows a larger gear if you really want to mash. I find it comfortable in my 2/4 gearing pretty much the entire climb.

Upon arriving at the trailhead I was greeted by a park ranger who, more than likely, was there making sure everyone entering paid their fees as this spot is a self-pay station. He asked me how I liked Dynamite trail and I told him that the park could use a few more trails just like it! He then told me of the upcoming plans to add a mountain bike skills area in the south end of the park complete with a pump track! Very cool. I also suggested that some of the current trails be re-routed out of the wash alignments. He seemed to be aware of the issues and assured me that by the end of 2013 some trails would be re-routed. We'll see. The park has a ton of potential.

On Sunday we hiked the length of Dynamite out-n-back, ran into a few of my riding buddies along the way, and generally enjoyed the warm late November day. This did give me ample opportunity to get some good trail shots, so here they are:
Snow?? Nope, just thousands of feathers!
Initial climbing grade.

You can see part of the old trail alignment dropping below the tread.
K breaking in her new boots.
Nice city views on the way up.

Signed switchbacks.

This side of the ridge has a more remote feeling.
At the junction with the San Tan Trail, our turnaround spot.

Another rider bombs down Dynamite.

November 22, 2012

Flight of the Turkey '12

Similar to last year, K had to work on Thanksgiving meaning I had the day to ride & our holiday feast would wait until Friday. That also meant that I wouldn't be able to tag along with the group on Friday for the annual Flight of the Pigs ride. With that I continued my own tradition of sorts, the Flight of the Turkey solo ride of the course. I'm sure not nearly as fun, but this year I wanted to at least make good time on it just to prove to myself that I could hang with the group. Last year's ride took way longer than I thought it would, so this year I vowed to start early!

I met up with a fellow mtbr forum rider who was in town from San Diego to show him a bit of National Trail. We were rolling around 6:30a, still dark as we started the climb up the Mormon Loop. By the time we hit the 24th St turnoff the lights were no longer needed.
Geoffrey enjoying what S.Mtn has to offer.
Sunrise over S.Mtn.
I was pointing out some of the highlights of the area, playing tourguide as we picked our way up National. We came to the base of the Waterfall and I bid Geoffrey farewell and wished him luck on his descent of National. Up at the saddle before the Buena Vista lot I ran into a large, 15+, group of fully armored DH riders getting ready to shred. Thankfully I was able to get my XC butt through there before the stampede!!
In a few hours I'd be riding through downtown, then behind the mountains.
I really enjoy the next section of National from the BV lot down to Telegraph Pass, I just don't get up there enough. The trail flows really well with just enough chunk to keep things interesting. The hikers at Telegraph are always amazed at the mountain bikers as we navigate down the final couple of switchbacks to the road. I took a short snack break here & watched about a dozen roadies come flyin' down the pavement. Soon I was back on my bike and ready for the HAB up towards post #33.

Post #33 on National marks the turnoff for the Pyramid Trail and begins the incredibly scenic and somewhat exposed ridgeline of west National. This section of trail is so underrated, partly due to the difficulty in reaching it. The effort is duly rewarded.
West National ridgeline.
A couple of the alternate descents towards the Ahwatukee side.
View back to the east & the TV towers.
Riding high above the kingdom.
There's one short stretch on the downhill that I'm not fond of, a short steep section of surfing babyheads with a s-curve thrown in. I walk down that. The trail finally mellows as it rounds the mountain and finishes on a desolate stretch into the San Juan lot. I wanted to keep my time under 4 hours to San Juan and was very pleased to make it just under 3 1/2. I was well ahead of schedule and our Thanksgiving date with our friends was shaping up to be ontime!
View from the San Juan lot.
Snack break before rolling onto the streets.
I took off around 10:40a popping out near 43rd Ave & Carver (Warner Rd alignment) & followed the canal banks for a bunch of miles. Eventually, I came to 7th Ave and turned north, not much traffic only the occasional barking dog behind a fence.  The residential area gave way to a more industrial zone and as I passed by an auto repair shop a barking pitbull came running out behind a fence, no big deal. The dog was yapping its head off as it kept pace with me for 50 feet or so, then I saw the OPEN GATE, rut-roh. The dog came running towards me, but wasn't overly aggressive. Thankfully, the owner heard the commotion and ordered the dog back. Whoa, that was a bit too close for comfort. Pedal on.

I crossed over the railroad tracks and arrived in downtown to vacant streets. It's pretty cool to ride down Central Ave among the tall buildings without the bustling of a business day.
Orpheum Theatre.
All quiet in the big city.
Soon the buildings give way to dirt paths and a tree-lined Central Ave. I made my way back over to 7th Ave and up to the T100 trailhead for the next section of singletrack.
Mountain View park
Not exactly a Thanksgiving day feast.
T100 is the main artery in the network of trails at Phoenix Mtn. Preserve (PMP), I can't say I'm a huge fan, but it does have some really fun sections. At least this year I didn't get all turned around navigating through the west end. At the top of one climb a couple other bikers were out enjoying the day, we started chatting a bit and one of them asked me where I was headed....Pima Canyon lot @S.Mtn. I just got a blank stare for a second then they asked about my route for the day. As I was getting ready to head off, they mentioned that they were getting tired after 7 miles & couldn't imagine being 42 miles into a 68 mile ride. We all chuckled a bit as I told them I felt the same way about 3 years ago. 6 miles later I was at the Tatum lot on the grassy knoll, it was now 2pm and I was 3 1/2 hours ahead of last year's timing, albeit I started later last year too.
The grassy knoll sans beer & bacon. :(
My GPS was on 'low battery' so I hooked up my external charger only to have it reset my Garmin, drat. Seems like the AA's were running low too and I didn't have any spares. I'd just run it until it died, which I thought would be any minute. A single charge has not given me more than 7 hours runtime in over 6 months.

 I was now back in 'roadie' mode on my way to Papago park and the final pitstop at Hunt's Tomb. Papago was the first place I rode a mountain bike way back in 1994, there are still some really fun spots tucked in there. The view from Hunt's Tomb is really nice on a clear day.
Last stop at Hunt's Tomb.
One of my favorite views at Papago.
A-Mountain on ASU's campus.
The perch overlooks the Phoenix Zoo, where K works, so I checked in with her & gave a wave before making my way over to Mill Ave and downtown Tempe. I started the final push towards S.Mtn, GPS still surviving on fumes. The miles ticked down quickly and before I knew it I was riding up the Pima Canyon access road. I could see my car, taste the chocolate milk, and then...beep...'low battery'...dead. GPS finally konked out only 150 feet from my car and just shy of 10 hours runtime. Wow. I was really surprised that it made the entire route on one charge. It was only 4:18p when I finished, sun still shining. At least now I know I can do the route in a timely manner, hopefully next year I'll be with 50 other piggies. Oink, oink, gobble, gobble.

November 21, 2012

Spread the Gold Canyon Stoke

Over the past year I've taken a bunch of friends out to the Gold Canyon trails for the first time and everytime it's the same reaction. Man that was FUN!! There's something about the twisting, swooping flow that just puts a smile of your face. There are no lung busting climbs, but you'll have to catch your breath. There are no death defying downhill runs, but your wrists will ache. It's simply this: great singletrack in a lush desert setting with unparalleled views. Not to mention all the dedication the local trail builders put into this place, well thought out trail design, trail signage and a willingness to show others the goods!!

I'm lucky enough to live close enough to consider Gold Canyon one of my backyard riding areas. My latest venture to GC I took one of my co-workers out to experience it for the first time. Scott has been steadily getting more and more into the riding scene after some years away. it's really cool to see him progress. Our route for the day would be around 16 miles and would include all the major attractions over a very squiggly loop.
Hitting the ledge drop on Cougar.
Starting the descent near the end of Gila Monster.
Wooden berm on Gila Monster.
Superstition Mtns watching guard.
Hitting the roller at the start of K-Trail.
We rode Lost Goldmine -> Cougar -> Holy Hill -> Old Horse Trail -> Connector to the back end of K-Trail -> Up to the Vortex -> Gila Monster -> Diamondback -> K-Trail -> Connector back to Old Horse Trail -> Back to Parking Lot.

About 10 miles in Scott started with some cramping issues so we backed off the pace to finish the ride.
Back at the car, he mentioned how this was the best trail network he's been on, it's hard to argue. Scott had to leave, I hit my cooler for some refreshments and headed back out to sample some of the other new additions.

I was able to ride the new connector from Cougar to Gila Monster, Kiki (connector from Secret to Snowbird), the new downhill on Snowbird and I finished my ride out by hitting up an old friend - Quartz Ridge. My second lap finished just before sunset and let me tell you, if you have to pick a perfect time to be out in Gold Canyon be sure to hit the golden hour!! You won't be disappointed.

My friend, Phil, has a nice map of the area to get you started. Now go ride.

November 17, 2012

AES - Kentucky Camp

I really enjoy the Kentucky Camp 46 mile course, it has it all: climbing, sweet singletrack, fast forest roads, rugged jeep roads, climbing, a remote feel, HAB, incredible views and climbing!! Yet somehow I couldn't get out of the house in a timely fashion, Seron and I were fashionably late. We totally missed the 9am start time, by arriving at 9:10! We gathered up our stuff, signed in with Chad and received some ridicule before heading out 5 minutes ahead of the 29 mile course riders.
Nice overview of the starting area. Photo by Scott.
I was feeling good from the start and when the dirt road gave way to AZT singletrack I was ready to go. This route starts with a quick punch in the gut climb, it was the last time I'd see Seron on course.  He was battling bike/tire issues for a good chunk of the day, but still had a good ride despite the mechanical issues.

I was trying to hold off the fast riders from the short course, but that didn't last too long. About 3 miles in on one of the longer climbs I heard them coming, I think I was passed by 5 riders. I spun out on two sections, but otherwise had a well paced ride out to the dirt road turnoff. From there it was time to settle in for the 9 miles or so of quick dirt roads leading to the Kentucky Camp turnoff. This is the spot on route where the 46 milers head south & the 29 milers continue straight.
Making my way up towards the Kentucky Camp turnoff.  Full album here.
At the turnoff I heard a familiar voice, Steve was there along with a few other riders. He said he was feeling like crap until this point, but the rest of the day we'd play leapfrog. The AZT through Kentucky Camp is fast and smooth, a rare treat in AZ.

Soon the southern lollipop turns off the singletrack and switches to jeep roads on its way to the halfway point. There was this one particular section of jeep road last year that had super ugly ruts, but  this year the road had been rebuilt, graded, whatever but it was of no consequence.
Last year these 4x4's had difficulty getting up this stretch.
As we neared the turnoff for the Link Trail I noticed how the trees were still green, last year at this time the canyon was in full autumnal glory. The Link Trail takes you to the highest point of the route, it's not terribly steep, but it's loose and my legs were growing tired so I HAB'd a good deal of the upper portion. I was nearing the one switchback on the climb when I heard some ATV's above me. I didn't think the top was so close, but surely the ATV's weren't on this trail? Wrong. Two hunters came crawling down this narrow section of trail, I had to climb up the mountainside a bit for them to pass. Wierd.

Steve and I made it to the top and met up with a couple from California who came in for the race. We turned our wheels to the left and the 4 of us blasted down the jeep road on the long descent into Gardner Canyon. Eventually the tunoff for the AZT appears and begins the fantastic Flume Trail section. The Flume Trail twists and turns through tall grass and sporadic rock outcroppings, simply amazing flow. Unfortunately, this was the time when my left hamstring decided to turn itself inside-out! I couldn't get my foot out of my pedal so I just stopped in the trail gritting my teeth waiting out the cramp. Steve and the Cali couple rode past and I still couldn't get going. Finally, after what seemed like 10 minutes I was able to resume riding.
Flume Trail.
Some of the sweetest singletrack around.
Before too long I was back at Kentucky Camp, took a quick snack break & topped off my water before heading out. From this point on I was having flashbacks from my last jaunt through these trails on the AZT300 back in April. On this day the weather was pleasant & overcast, no freak winter storms!! My legs were starting to feel heavy, thankfully there wasn't much climbing left. We came up on a rider from the short course who was struggling with cramping issues of his own. He said he was ok, but to let Chad know he was still out there..At the start of the Santa Rita passage Steve kept slowly pulling away from me and when we crested the highest point remaining I wouldn't see him again until the end. I was starting to HAB a few more sections than I normally would, I had little juice left for climbing.
I try to take this same picture each time I pass through.

Mt. Wrightson.
i bottomed out from the long rocky descent and made my way towards Box Canyon Rd. This would bring me back to the out-n-back portion of the route with 6 miles to go. My goal for the day was 6 1/2 hours, I was still on pace as long as I kept pushing as my legs would allow. I kept a keen eye on my race clock and as I crested the last short climb I had less than 10 minutes to my cutoff. Back on the entry road I pushed hard through the sandy washboarding & finished with a time of 6:26. Time to relax and have a chocolate milk! 

On our way back home we had to make a stop at El Guero Canelo's for a famous Sonoran hotdog!!
Tucson really has something here!

November 3, 2012

AES - Black Canyon Trail

November rolled in and with it the prime desert all-day riding season. The beginning of November also marks the start of the Arizona Endurance Series (AES) single-day races. First up, the Black Canyon Trail (BCT). This would be my 3rd race on it, the first year it marked my longest ride to date at 43 miles and damned near killed me! Last year my rig was in the shop so I borrowed a singlespeed for the longer 50 mile variety and was pleasantly surprised by how well I fared on it. This year talk began to surface between Seron and I of actual 'pretending' to race the course, I know, I know, what has happened to me?? Well, before you cast me off as some gram counting lycra clad weight weenie, know this: racing to me is simply trying to beat my own personal time from the previous year. That time was 7:57 (h:mm).

There were two areas of easy time trimming, leave the camera in the car & skip the full out picnic style lunch. (I took 2 pictures the entire day, 1 at the start & 1 at the finish!! So, I'll swipe a couple from my friends and a few from earlier trips for some visual stimulation!)

There was a really good turnout for this ride, 55 riders in all. We had to park in the middle of the lot! Ray was making his rounds, checking everyone in, and we were getting geared up & chatting with the usual suspects.
Ray scouring the signup list.
We rolled out on the neutral start, a five-ish mile pavement tour through Black Canyon City dodging a stray dog or two along the way. Soon enough the road turns to dirt, a quick pitstop is made by many, and the virtual flag is dropped. I had weaseled my way to the front of the pack waiting for the start knowing full well I'd be immediately passed by the masses. I really just wanted to catch a glimpse of Kurt taking off in a cloud of dust up the road, dude is wicked fast!! The course is generally this: 15 miles of dirt road with two climbs (the first one on Maggie Mine Rd is a little over a mile and the second one on Crown King Rd is about 3 miles capping the dirt road section) followed by 30 miles of mostly flowy singletrack with a few jeep road sections & river crossings near the end, but there is one last climb up 8 switchbacks leading to the parking lot.

I mentioned to Seron before the ride that I wanted to keep my bike in a larger gear for the 2 dirt road climbs. It was the one thing I really took away from last year's ride on the singlespeed: larger gear = pedaling slower, but moving faster! We started up Maggie Mine Rd and I was near the back of the pack, I could see most of the people around me downshifting into a really low spinny gear. I left it in the middle ring up front & put the rear in the 4th largest cog (2/4 is how I refer to it). I was a bit surprised how I was able to quickly pass a bunch of riders as we all began to get strung out on the climb. Soon I had to knock it down to 2/3, but it felt good and I was able to maintain that ratio all the way to the top. This allowed me to easily stand and mash every so often mixing the pace a bit. Over the top the road undulates for a few miles, long stretches of flat fast sections and a few short grunts to break it up.
Blink & you'll miss it, even on a bike.
We rode through the very small odd community of Bumble Bee on a very smooth graded dirt road, uphill just enough to make you pedal. I was settling into a groove when....SNAP!! There it was, my chain dangling off my bike dragging in the dirt. Drat. As soon as I stopped I heard a few other riders coming up from behind, 'is everything ok?', sort of. James stopped to lend a hand, but I had everything I needed (I thought), so he pressed on. For some dumb reason I sat there and fiddled with the pin, trying to get it back in for 5 minutes or so. Rider after rider passed on by. I'm sitting there thinking, 'this is the first major-ish mechanical I've had on an AES ride, just figures that it happens on the day that I'm actually riding pretty well!!' Seron stopped to see what I was up to and asked if I had a power-link, duh, yes I do!! After his words of wisdom I shoo him along, no need to hold him up too. A couple of minutes later I'm back in business, I just need to clean off the chain & re-lube. Now where's that lube I just purchased.....dig, dig, dig.....dig, dig, dig. Nothing. Well, I did remember the rag, all wiped off I'm about to go when Mike came by. I asked him if he had any chain lube. He too digs for a bit, but no cigar. Oh well, I'll track some down eventually. Onward I go.

At the beginning of the Crown King climb I saw a few riders not too far ahead. I settled into my 2/4 gearing for the first mile of the climb. Mile 2 brings a steeper grade and I slipped down to 2/3 and eventually passed a couple of riders. At the top I met up with Seron, had a quick snack and took off. I knew Seron would catch & pass me on the Antelope Creek section, dude has no fear of sliding into that canyon!!
Older pic, but still Antelope Creek, it was a bit chillier for that ride.
We made another quick pitstop at the start of the Hidden Treasure Mine section, chatting with Walt & De. I was feeling good, so I went on, pretty much non-stop until the road crossing down by Bumble Bee. By then my stomach was grumbling, time to eat. The next pseudo check-point was at Gloriana Mine. I made good time getting there, Walt and I kept leap-frogging each other until we finally caught up with De. One last re-fuel for the final push.
Seron caught me slacking off, too many rocks in my shoes!! Photo by Seron
Walt and I rode fairly close for a while, but he was really starting to feel the effects of an oncoming cold. I passed him on one of the climbs then last saw him off his bike, head down. What a crappy feeling, but he's the MAN & still finished!! I now had my sights set on a sub 7 hour finish, could I make it? I rode through the last river crossing, it actually had water in it, heading towards the last climb of the route up the 8 switchbacks. There is a bike ramp cattle guard after the river that I failed to negotiate, not enough momentum had me bucking off the bike for a 3 foot dismount. Whoa! 17 minutes to go. My best effort had been cleaning 7 of 8 switchbacks on the final climb, today it was a clean run: 8 for 8!! Woohoo! I crested the summit, sped down to the trail junction, took a peek at the time: 6 minutes to go!! 3/4 of a mile later I was in the parking lot at 6:58!! Made it! Official time does not count the 5 mile neutral rollout, my clock started right at the parking lot. This is a really fun event on a great trail. It's also fun to do as a shuttle with Gnar Gnar tours too!
Post ride BS'ing & beers.