July 6, 2013

Flagstaff: Around the Mountain & Soaking Wet

Ray sent up the bat signal for a ride around Humphrey's Peak in Flagstaff. I knew the route well, so it was a no-brainer to join in the fun. Apparently 10 others felt the same way!! Getting 11 people to show up for a ride 2+ hours north of the big city via email is quite a feat in itself. Any chance I get to fly the coop north in the summer I have to take. The forecast on this Saturday in July was a high of 75º and a 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms.

We all knew if we messed around too much early on we'd be getting wet. Northern AZ has already begun to see the monsoon kick in. Still waiting down in the desert....

I barely made the 7a start time, not because I overslept my 3a wakeup call, instead I had to stop at 3 different establishments to get into a restroom in Flagstaff!! Jeez. I gathered up my stuff as quick as I could and the group was off.

We started our loop from the Shultz Creek trailhead, climbing Shultz Creek trail up to the Sunset trailhead. The pace was brisk, Ray was out in front afterall. About 3 miles up the climb and gasping for oxygen, I had to back off a bit. These high elevation rides have really put the hurt on me this year, so I wanted to pace myself for the rest of the day.
Most of the group, AES jerseys well represented.
Gill & Caroline sneaking in just after I snapped the pic above.
We started our ascent of Waterline Rd. with Gill and I settling in at the back. This has to be one of the best gravel road climbs around, nice grade, healthy distance at 9+ miles & views to knock your socks off!!
Aspen alley on Waterline Rd.
Roughly an hour after starting the climb we re-grouped at the inner basin singletrack, aka Pickup Sticks. The trail was in prime 'hero dirt' condition and we ripped it! Too bad this trail is a mere 1.8 miles.
Pickup Sticks, well someone did, the trail was clear. Photo by Jeff.
We re-gouped at the bottom, then I went ahead a bit to Lockett Meadow for some classic inner basin money shots.
Ray leading out the gang.
Kurt & Caroline.
We could see some storm clouds brewing, but they were small and it was still early. 'Beat the rain', let's GO! Off we went on a white knuckle washboard descent. There were quite a few cars coming up the forest road on this morning and it was a bit unnerving trying to stay far right while the washboards tossed you about. Down at the bottom Gill was about to snap a group photo with his cell phone...rut-roh. No cell phone!! The pounding descent took a victim, a high-price piece of electronics and Gill was having none of it. He departed, heading back up the hill searching for a needle in a haystack.

We were now on FR418, this would take us around the north end of Humphrey's peak linking us back to the Arizona Trail. The fast riders started to pull away and as Jeff and I were chatting a light rain began to fall.
We ticked off the miles and the rain grew more steady. I had my rain jacket with me, but it doesn't breathe all that well so I was a bit reluctant to put it on. It was getting very sticky out, but not cold, so I just let it rain. It felt kinda nice.

I soon found myself in trailsweeper position, but keeping a line of sight on Jeff/Nancy/Kurt/Caroline. As the road became more saturated with water my tires slowly began to goop. I was keeping a keen eye on the situation, I did not want a repeat of the death mud on last year's AZT300!!

I rode around a curve and spotted Jeff stopped in the road. When I approached he had his chain lying in the road! Snapped. A quick-link would not fix it, but he had all the tools to repair it and sent me on my way. By this point my tires were getting really gooped up, so I started walking up one of the climbs hoping they wouldn't get worse. I saw someone up ahead, it was Nancy and I gave her a quick update and pushed on towards the AZT. At least now I was able to ride since it was pouring buckets!

As luck would have it, the skies dried up as I rode the final mile towards the AZT. Perfect. I needed a lunch break, so I better get it NOW. While I was snacking, Jeff and Nancy rolled up. We hung out for a few minutes then readied ourselves for the fun climb up towards Bismarck Lake.
Waterlogged bike.
Snack time!! Photo by Jeff.
I was just about to start pedaling, when I felt a large raindrop hit me, then another. Ok, rain jacket is going on. By the time I rode 1/4 mile up the trail it was coming down heavy once more, this time accompanied by loud claps of thunder. Too bad it was raining so hard during this section, I really wanted to get some pictures of the handlebar high ferns that were swallowing the route. Simply amazing.

The sky stayed charcoal grey and my sunglasses were not helping me whatsoever covered in mud, water & fog. Off they came.
The trail stayed in great condition in spite of the torrential conditions.
Wet or dry this portion of AZT is tough to beat.
I swear it was only 10 minutes after ditching my sunglasses, the sun came out and it stopped raining. I pedaled on for a little longer, then made the switch once more. I found Jeff & Nancy by the turnoff to Aspen Corner and after a little bit of coaxing convinced them to stay with the route and not take the road back to Shultz Creek TH.

The monster downhill was upon us. It's why we climb. The payoff for a big effort. The upper section is starting to get a little choppy, but it still rips. Surprisingly, the trail was totally dry going down.
Taking off from Aspen Corner.
See?!?! Sunny & dry!! Photo by Jeff.
Crisscrossing through the forest.
Not gnar!!
Dark clouds chasing us.
We almost made it down to Snowbowl Rd before the next deluge hit us. Rain jacket out once more. A few very loud thunderous booms let us know the storm wasn't going away. We were now in the home stretch, 6-7 miles to go on mostly level to downhill terrain.
Not sunny or dry. Photo by Jeff.
The next few miles we tried to dodge as many mud puddles as we could, but once you're wet & dirty, does it really matter? I was surprised all day by the number of other riders/hikers/horseback riders we encountered. Usually when the weather is severe in the desert, you don't encounter a soul.

A few miles later we made the downhill turnoff onto the moto trail, followed by a super fun alternative to Shultz Creek. The thunder & lightning reminded us one final time that we should be on our way with an almost instantaneous flash and CRACK!!

Back at the car, Ray, Kurt & Caroline were still hanging around. They mentioned how we just missed the rest of the gang, since they high-tailed it out of there after witnessing a lightning strike on a tree some 50 yards away!! Stripped the bark in sections from the trunk.
I'm not the only one who needs a bath!!
Got mud?
No post-ride gathering today, some of the hardest rain fell while we were changing.
About 1/2 way up there are bare spots from the lightning strike.
The only bummer on the day was bringing home a cooler full of post-ride beverages!! We did get an update on Gill, he found his phone!! Unfortunately a car ran it over, but he found it. One thing we learned today: a 40% chance of thunderstorms actually means that it will rain on you 40% of the time you're outside!!

I left Flagstaff under rainy skies & 59º, when I made it back to the Valley of the Sun it was clear & 109º!! A 50º swing, whoa. That's why we ride in Flagstaff, the trails are pretty good too!

Thanks again Ray, for putting this together. Super fun route and weather stories for everyone to share!!

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