November 29, 2013

Flight of the Pigs!!

A few years ago I had heard about an underground ride called the Flight of the Pigs. I later learned that it was a 70 mile loop around downtown Phoenix, no way I could do that I thought. A year or two passed and my mileage had increased to a point where I thought it may be something I could try. Two years ago I gave it a try, solo on Thanksgiving day, to see if I could really do it. Last year I was again unable to join the group and went solo once more.

Third time's the charm, right? This year I was able to make the Black Friday group ride with the other piggies. There sure were others, 81 riders at the start!! We all checked in with Jim, the host for the past 18 years!  I stood on the weigh-in scale: 227 lbs with all my gear & bike, not really close to the heaviest somewhere around 287. We all attached bright pink string to our seats so we could tell who was with the group as we rode through South Mountain park and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. We were also handed a playing card, this would serve as our meal ticket for our pre-paid lunch.
Pre-dawn check-in. Photo by Noel.
There's only one time check on the ride. From the Pima Canyon TH to the Buena Vista lot needs to be 1 hour or less. I had never cracked 1:10, but I also never really tried. I took the Mormon Loop up instead of National since I knew I'd be faster on Mormon.

I topped out at Buena Vista around 51 minutes with Jeff and we rode the next section to Telegraph pass mostly together. There's usually a tricky spot or two on the way over to Telegraph, but I only dabbed a few times the entire way, it was a good run.

It was really cool to see so many riders out on the west end of National high on the ridgeline. Such an underrated section of trail.

I made it to the first of four re-group areas at the San Juan lot somewhere around mid-pack. This is what sets this ride apart from the rest. Socializing with friends, meeting new ones, cracking open a beer and waiting for the rest of the group to filter in. Not to mention it was a near perfect day outside.
San Juan parking lot, end of the National trail.
Donna, Nancy and I relaxing. Photo by Doug.
James is quick to start new fashion trends. Photo by Jeff.
We departed the San Juan lot and made a quick re-group just outside the park. We were now heading out onto the flats, some road, some canal, then more roads to our lunch stop in downtown Phoenix. This was the first time I felt like I was in a true peloton, except it sounded like a swarm of bees due to all the knobbies!! It was a brisk, but not crushing pace towards lunch.

Jim's wife was behind the counter as the herd arrived. We swapped out our playing cards for a sandwich, chips & drink then filled the place inside & out in a flash.
Lunch stop.
 After lunch I ended up near the front of the pack and stayed there as we entered T100 in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. T100 is a cross-country burner for the most part, a couple short steep sections get you off the bike but otherwise it's a fast roll.

As I approached the final descent to the grassy knoll, there was a gentleman sitting trailside in a camping chair with a cooler of beverages for the riders! He didn't have many and his only obligation was to save one beer for his son. The rest of our small group helped to drain his cooler low.

I arrived at the knoll and there were only a handful of riders there. I cracked open a Yuengling that I schlepped around along with my bag-o-bacon, mmmmm. Soon a throng of riders arrived and so did a rather large ham!!
Occupy Grassy Knoll!!
Such a great spot right next to the trailhead.
Photo by Doug.
These AES guys have no shame, gimme that ham!!
Nancy & Caroline enjoying the day.
All ready to go.....leader gets a flat!!
Jim took care of his tire issues and the group made its way south on more pavement. A short stint on the canal banks followed by some greenbelt led us to Papago Park. We took a bit of a scenic route through the trails, hitting some of the fun popular loops over to our meetup location at Hunt's Tomb.
Noel captured a pic of me taking a pic!
Hunt's Tomb overlooks both Papago Park & the Phoenix Zoo.
The last riders pulled up to the top as the sun made it's quick retreat over the horizon. There was a short discussion on doing a small re-route through downtown Tempe due to the Mill Ave closure for the Tempe Festival of Lights parade that was due to start shortly. We decided to do one more quick re-group at the Mill Ave bridge and make a game-time decision whether to proceed down Mill.
Mill Ave bridge. Photo by Noel.
 Mill Ave. was already barricaded off by police, people were lined up on both sides of the street and we simply rode on through!! The police didn't seem to care as the crowd began whooping it up as we passed. It was the highlight of the ride!!
Kicking off the Festival of Lights parade!! Photo by Noel.
We exited Mill Ave and finished the remaining miles on pavement back to where we started some 70 miles earlier. We only needed our lights for the last few miles. Most of the riders stopped at Jim's for the post-ride festivities: catered BBQ, 2 kegs of beer, distribution of the custom FotP2013 pins and stories from the day's ride. There was an announcement that there may only be 2 more 'official' rides as Jim's been the host for 18 years. That's quite an impressive run stemming from a little ride with friends so many years ago.
Beer & BBQ time!!
Flight of the Pigs schwag!!
Pigs really do fly!! Photo by Noel.
As long as my schedule allows, I'll be game for the next two renditions. How about you?

Finally, here's a wonderful video of the day put together by my friend, Ryan. Enjoy!!

FOTP2013 from Ryan Nelson on Vimeo.

November 28, 2013

Turkey Day Hike on the AZT

Our Thanksgiving Day plans didn't involve cooking as we were invited over to a friend's house later in the day. We were blessed with a picture perfect clear sunny day in the mid-70's, so K and I decided to work off some calories before the meal by taking a stroll on the Arizona Trail out by Picketpost Mtn.

I've been out to this section of trail countless times now and I'll return countless more. I love this place. There were a few cars in the lot and we passed a few other hikers on the trail along with fresh tire tracks. Our hike took us south about 2 1/2 miles until the trail drops into a major wash crossing. That's where we turned around and headed back to the car. Perfect day to be outside in AZ.
One of the newly installed signs at the north end of the lot.
Vintage wood markers still can be found along the route as well.
The AZT takes on many shapes across this vast state, here it looks tamed.
One of these days I'm going to hike that thing!
A nearly symmetric cactus.
K closing in on our turn around spot.
I was already in game-day mode.
In a sea of ruggedness Picketpost Mtn finds a way to stand out.
Sometimes it's ok to walk.
Mr. Topofusion himself was the culprit for those tire tracks, out for a glorious 2-day spin.

November 16, 2013

AES: Kentucky Camp '13

It's mid-November, so it must be time for the annual AES Kentucky Camp race! Time to head southeast of Tucson for some hilly grassland riding. I had waffled a bit about doing the race this year, but in the end I couldn't pass it up. I was supposed to be in a duel of sorts with Nicette, who challenged me to a race after our close finishing times last year. She couldn't make it down for the event, so...I WIN!! No?? I opted to virtually race her time of 6 hrs flat, besting my time by 26 minutes.

The forecast was a bit iffy, mostly due to wind. I arrived super early (especially for me) to find the weather was perfect. I almost had too much time to get ready, even socializing for a bit before the long course riders headed up the sandy road. My legs were ready to go, no pre-race trail run this time around and I had a new set of tires rearing to go as well. That's a Panaracer Rampage up front & Specialized Captain Grid in rear for those who care.

I was more mid-pack at the start this year instead of my usual trail sweeper position, but this led to a couple of logjams on the initial climb. On that climb my chain started ghost-shifting too, wtf? I had just dialed everything in the night before, gave it a test ride and all was well.

After a few passes I was riding behind Jeff about 3 miles in when I dropped a chain, followed that up with more annoying ghost-shifting and a second dropped chain. I finally relented and pulled over to see what was up. Ezra stopped to help out as the rest of the field zoomed on ahead. He didn't have to stop as this IS a race, but I did appreciate the human bike stand while we figured out what was going on. Cable tension was good, stops were set, freewheeled silky smooth, but wanted to skip pedaling?? It ended up being a slightly bent hanger, about 1/32"!! 20 minutes lost, we resumed the ride.

I caught up to a few riders by the turn onto Box Canyon rd another before Kentucky Camp and I could see a rider in blue just ahead as I stopped to top off my water bottle and grab a quick snack. I was determined to make my 6hr goal. The wind had picked up a bit, but overall didn't really bother me at all the entire day.

After Kentucky Camp there are a series of jeep roads with a couple good climbs. I topped off one of the climbs and was cruising towards the final climb to the high point of the route when my left quad knotted up stopping me in my tracks. I stood to the side of my bike in the middle of the road for a good 10 minutes waiting for the death grip release. Finally, I was able to get going once more and as I reached the halfway point the time read: 3hrs 4mins. I can do this.

I HAB'd a bit up to the top of the Link trail and had another small snack.
Mt. Wrightson from the top of Link trail.
Looking towards the Canelo Hills.
I heard a couple people chatting on the Link trail as I started the long descent towards the AZT turnoff. Ends up it was Ezra and another female rider who thought she was on the short course!! She was so infuriated with her mistake that she was loudly cursing at herself as she passed us both by. That's why route finding & preparation are key in these events, it's all about YOU.

Ezra and I rode together for a bit and soon caught up to the rider I spotted back at Kentucky Camp. It was Derek!! The three of us yo-yo'd all the way back to Kentucky Camp where I topped off water once more.

Both Ezra and I commented on how heavy our legs felt after the last break, my pace was slowing as the minutes melted away. We came to the singletrack turnoff where I HAB'd up some loose trail, but had to stop once more for some calories. Ezra continued on and I'd only catch one or two glimpses of him until the finish. On my way up to the remaining high point I passed by a couple of short course riders who seemed happy to see some others out on the trail.

The minutes were ticking down fast and by the time I returned to Box Canyon rd I knew I wasn't going to make it in under 6hrs. Virtual race LOST!! I still had a goal to beat my previous year's time of 6:26, but it would be close.
Classic AZT view of Mt. Wrightson.
As with my recent Picketpost rides, this ride includes a 13+ mile section of the AZT that is used during the AZT300. As I rode through it brought back a flood of memories, the flume trail at night, tripping the motion sensor light at Kentucky Camp while others slept nearby, throwing my sleeping bag on the ground 100 yds up from Box Canyon rd and not having to do the climb opposite Helvitia rd.

The minutes did tick down, so much that I missed even my 6:26 goal!! I finished at 6:36. I'm sure I have a 6hr effort in me. There's always next year.

As usual the post-race scene at this event is one of the better ones. BBQ chicken from Carlos, a plethora a craft beers to choose from and the camaraderie make this a super fun time.

** I only took the 3 pictures above, but more can be seen here: 2010, 2011, 2012 **

**EDIT: Chuck Hill was on course taking pictures!! His photos can be viewed here**

November 10, 2013

Bay Area: Vines, Suds & a Dud

I've been a San Francisco 49ers fan since I was a kid, a bit odd since I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania where the Eagles & Steelers are the fan favorites. I owe my Niners fanhood to my older brother, who back in '78 or so used to poke fun at them for sucking so bad. I think I felt sorry for them, so I started to root for the NFL doormats. Little did I know then that they had just drafted Joe Montana and their fortunes were about to turn.

Fast forward to recent times. I now reside in the Phoenix area and have seen the 49ers play many times here vs the Cardinals. A few years ago I flew up to SF to finally catch a game at Candlestick, but as luck would have it, they sucked then too and were promptly blown out by the Patriots.

This season is the last for Candlestick and I really wanted to check out one more game at The Stick. The 49ers are relevant once again coming oh-so close last year to hoisting a 6th Lombardi Trophy. We checked the schedule and finally worked out a weekend to head north. The Carolina Panthers were coming in and playing well also.

First, we had the rest of the weekend to fill and my nephew lives in the area. I recently had the good fortune to try the flagship IPA from Russian River Brewing, Pliny the Elder. We made plans to drive up to Santa Rosa to pick some up on Sat and stop at a couple vineyards in Sonoma along the way.
Our first stop, B.R. Cohn.
A lady watched in disbelief as her new purchase tore through the to go bag!!

Second stop: Chateau St. Jean.
My next cycling jersey??
We were running a bit late after a hearty breakfast and only made two stops in Sonoma. Russian River Brewing was calling, we soon found out it was calling everyone in Santa Rosa!! Sure, it was a Saturday evening, but a 2hr wait to get a table?!?! We weren't really hungry, so we killed time walking around downtown and browsing a rather large Barnes and Noble.

An hour and a half later we made our way back to RRB, only this time there was a line of 20+ people waiting to get in the front door!! The place was at capacity and even those wishing to refill growlers had to wait. Funny thing is, every other establishment downtown had openings, but the brewery was overflowing!!
Get there early!
By now we had worked up an appetite, hopefully the food was as good as the beer! I also had a recommendation to check out Costeaux's, a french bakery in Healdsburg, but we didn't have time. Lucky for us RRB uses Costeaux's bread on their sandwiches!! I ordered a meatball sandwich and the full sampler of beer.
Suddenly, I'm thirsty.
Too bad I can't trust a growler in checked luggage!!
Full sampler, ready to go.
I'm not really an IPA fan, but this is fantastic!
RRB also specializes in sour beers, very different, but quite tasty. We all enjoyed our meal and drinks, then I picked up a dozen bottles to bring back to the desert. The challenge would be keeping them cold all the way home. We later noticed the bottling date was 11.7.13, we purchased the beer on 11.9.13!! Talk about fresh.

Back at my nephew's place we stocked up the fridge and called it a night.

Sunday morning we packed up for the flight home, got ready for the game then rummaged around the house for a cooler large enough for the 20oz bottles. We found a suitable bin with holiday decorations in it...perfect! Loaded up, we stopped by a 7-11 in Oakland for some ice when it kinda dawned on me that I wasn't exactly wearing the right colors in this part of town!! At least the Raiders fans were watching their early kickoff game as I wore my bright red Roger Craig throwback jersey!!

We slogged our way across the grid-locked new Oakland Bay Bridge and were dropped off at Candlestick a couple hours before kickoff. We walked around outside the stadium for a while then checked out a temporary 49ers Hall of Fame exhibit they erect on gamedays.
He may be heading to the game.
Only in SF.

Vintage helmets inside the 49ers HoF exhibit.
Evolution to the current design.

This guy was pretty good.
Everson Walls, my favorite Cowboy of all time.

Anquan Boldin is solely responsible for making her a 49ers fan! Thanks Q.

Need a few more of these.
Seats weren't too bad.
Sourdough Sam leading the charge!

Looks who's back, TO. He was part of the #4 moment in Candlestick history: The Catch 2.
Lots of this stuff floating around.
Eric Reid interception, one of the few highlights on this day.
I'll take that over a cheesehead!!
Cool jersey: Elway, Marino, Montana & Unitas.
The Niners lost 10-9, brutal game to watch actually. Farewell Candlestick.
It was a little past 4p and we were hoping to make a 7:15 flight out of OAK, but we did have backup tickets for a Southwest flight around 8:30 just in case. We were going to meet my nephew in downtown SF a few BART stops up the line, but first we had to get to the BART. Obviously, the area outside the stadium was a madhouse, 3 express buses later we were en route.

It was now almost 5p and things were grid-locked. Sometime just before 6p we hopped on the BART and soon we were unpacking beer from our makeshift cooler in a downtown parking garage and slipping them, one by one, into a dozen ski socks for our luggage. Back on the road we quickly merged onto the Bay Bridge, it was now around 6:30. Traffic was surprisingly light on the bridge and we were dropped off at OAK at 6:41.

We quickly grabbed our bags, said our goodbyes and hustled up to the ticket counter. I asked the agent if we still had time to check bags for the PHX flight, she said '4 minutes'. Perfect. Bags checked, TSA scanned, seats assigned and we were on board in our seats 13 minutes after being dropped off!! I'm beginning to like flying in/out of OAK!!

It was a fun weekend, hopefully the next trip north to see the 49ers will result in a WIN!! I'm now 0-2 at home games. Back at home we unpacked the beverages and the beer was still ice cold & the wine survived as well. Ski socks, bubble wrap and an extra sweatshirt or jacket is all you need.