March 15, 2014

Camp Tucson

I wasn't looking for a place to camp. In fact Camp Tucson (CT) really has nothing to do with camping although you could if you wanted to. So, what is Camp Tucson? In short, 3 big loop rides near Tucson, self-supported and un-timed. Scott is the ringleader for this event and all the details can be found here.

The event is billed as a primer for the Arizona Trail Race in April, but I'm skipping that one this year and missed CT last year. I didn't really feel like camping out for these rides so I hit up Scott & Eszter for some floor space among a stable of bikes.

Day 1: Redington - AZT - La Milagrosa

I was really glad this ride was scheduled for a noon start. I had to work late the previous night & would be making the trek south in the morning. I made it to the start with only a few minutes to spare, Tucson doesn't quite have the freeway options of Phoenix, but that's not really a bad thing either.

There was a nice turnout, 16 riders or thereabout. We made our way across the flats then began the climb up Redington rd. Even with the 'relaxed' pace I was off the back fairly quick. Scott was nursing a head cold and stayed well behind chatting with Krista. Last year during the AZT300 I rode this section for the first time, a good portion of it at night. I really wanted to see how the jeep roads at the top would ride during the day with fresh legs on an un-loaded bike. The Redington climb wasn't as long as I remembered.

A few of us started out on the jeep roads and immediately I could tell how much easier this day would be. I hung out with Alexis & Denny for a bit, then stopped to finally start taking pictures.
Plenty of water high in the hills, a few stock tanks were full.
It didn't take long to leave the land of the Saguaro.
To my surprise I was able ride most of the jeep road section. These few miles were one of my low points during the 300 for sure so it was nice to see that it really wasn't as bad as I remembered.

I was now riding solo, off the back, as I winded my way around to the AZT junction. I also forgot how good this section of trail was. Great singletrack for sure.
Near Italian Trap.
Bike friendly cattle guards.
Good climbing grades almost the entire way.
I was really diggin' the flow of the singletrack up there, couldn't figure out why more people don't rave about this section. Oh, that's right, there's really no easy access without a shuttle. Good thing I like to climb.

I crested out on the high point of the ride and found my camping spot from day 2 of the 300. I took a few minutes to pause & reflect back, recalling my almost shattered state of mind that night. This was a prime opportunity to crack open that Pepsi I had been lugging up the mountain. The sugar infused carbonation was just what I needed as I made my way down the trail and over to the La Milagrosa split.

A few years earlier, Seron and I had cut our Lemmon Drop ride a bit short due to being whooped & time constraints thereby missing a run down the famed Milagrosa (Millie) trail. I had heard the stories, seen some video clips of Tucson's more famous technical downhill run. Was I really up for it? Could I actually ride it?
The Milagrosa turnoff, doesn't look like much here.
Almost immediately I was carrying my bike down some large stair-step rocks. There was a pool below a rock outcropping as the trail tilted upwards for a bit. The upper part of the trail followed an undulating ridgeline, techy riding for sure, but not overwhelming on my hardtail either. I was enjoying the challenge.
Serene beach at the start.
Down the ridge to a punchy climb.
Wheel grabbing rocks everywhere.
Almost to the bottom.
I walked a few sections, but overall I was able to ride 90% of it. Based on what I had previously heard I was anticipating closer to a 50/50 ride-to-walk ratio. I'm glad I notched this one, this is a really nice 4+ hour loop.

The trail exits into a wash area, then out to pavement for a few miles back to the car. A few others had just finished and we all met up with the rest of the gang at 1702 for pizza and beer!

Afterwards we made our way back to Scott & Eszter's place where we listened to Bama & Tanesha entertain us with stories from the road. They happened to be passing through town with the Santa Cruz demo caravan on their way to Phoenix. It was a fun day/evening and we get to ride more trails in the morning!!
Mountain bikers across the land know where to go.

Day 2: Tucson Mountain Park Big Loop

Scott was still feeling under the weather so he opted for computer work while Eszter, Caroline, Mathieu and I readied ourselves for the TMP ride. This would be my first ride at Tucson Mountain Park. I've heard good things about the trails there and was excited to see it firsthand.

The Genser trailhead is only 5 miles or so from the house, so we followed Eszter's lead on a maze of urban connectors: roads, alleys, 2-track & singletrack were all utilized. It sure was a fun warmup. At the trailhead there was already a large group assembled, another 16 riders or so for this group-ish ride. Jeff & Nancy made the trek south too.
Genser trailhead.
The start was brisk and the trails super fun. Lots of ups/downs twists & turns. I wanted to take some pics, but wasn't ready to get dropped from the group either. The trail wound its way under a road via a low-hanging box culvert, so low in fact I had to sit on my top tube so my helmet would clear the ceiling!! I stuck with one group for a few miles then stopped to put on some lip balm, that was all I needed to get separated from the pack. I saw glimpses of Jeff, Nancy & Caroline for a while then decided to start taking some pics.
Krista was chilling, taking GoPro vids of her downhills & not even looking at the trail while climbing!
Alexis powering up Cat Mtn.
Fantastic views of Mt. Lemmon to the east from Cat Mtn.
The ensuing downhill was a fun mix of flow & tech. At the bottom the trail gave way to a short dirt road connector before hooking back into singletrack. I was glad I had a GPS over the next few miles as I still blew by a couple of turns. Soon the trail angled upwards once again, this time towards Gates Pass on the Yetman trail. I started to feel sluggish, crappy actually, and was very glad to reach the pass so I could point my bike downhill once again.
Rode up this side of the pass.
The trail continuing upward, but I was heading over the pass & down.
This was the high point of the day and the following miles of trail were fast, fun and rejuvenating! Exactly what I needed at that moment.
Miles & miles of fast desert singletrack. Yes please.
I only bothered to stop because I was exiting a loose wash area here.
I was growing more and more hungry as the miles past by, but the water re-supply stop wasn't quite in view yet. I knew the visitor center was on route, but didn't realize it was the Saguaro Nat'l Park (west) visitor center I was looking for, instead I pulled into the Sonoran Desert Museum's visitor center a couple miles early. Some shade & cold water were waiting as I downed a slice or two of leftover pizza.
The Sonoran Desert Museum is a great day trip all on it's own.
Saguaro Nat'l Park visitor center.
I had been warned about riding on Kinney rd, as there can be a high volume of traffic with little shoulder space for bikes. I lucked out as only a couple of vehicles passed by before turning onto Hohokam rd on my way up to Golden Gate. This was a really nice well graded climb, settle in and pedal.
I thought this was a healthy looking rattler, until I realized it was dead, rattle missing too.
Flying down the backside of Golden Gate, Picacho Peak could be seen in the distance.
I exited the dirt onto Picture Rocks rd and watched the miles tick by. I knew the dreaded gasline was coming, but so too were the trails at Sweetwater. The gasline ended up being more of a mental mirage as there were only two steep climbs. I cleaned the first one, and almost the second one....until I spun out and started sliding backwards downhill!! Of course I had 3 spectators as I landed on my backside tangled up in my steel ride.
Fast descent on Picture Rocks rd.
First of two gasline climbs.
A short stint on the roads led me to the parking area for the Sweetwater trails. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and not one car was in the lot! The route led me generally south through the system on a few different trails, each one a delight to ride. There's not a ton of miles to be had here, but the trails are worth checking out.
Well marked trails throughout.
The views were stellar to boot.
As the route wrapped up the final miles I found myself back on the Yetman trail slogging through a sandy wash area. It was short lived as I passed by an old stone house, a flowing spring and finally to the Genser trailhead after deciphering which way to go at a 4-way intersection when the track overlapped the morning's path.
Final approach back to TMP.
Bowen Stone House.
Sometimes the desert gives back.
I was fairly certain I was in trailsweeper position and all that remained was for me to navigate my way back to the house. I really didn't want to take the roads back, so I loaded the route from the morning and re-traced the path backwards. I successfully made it back to the house from the urban singletrack assault route just as the others were heading out for dinner at Mi Ranchito.
Downtown Tucson in the waning light.
Tucson locals have raved about Mi Ranchito for years, I was starving and now craving a hearty mexican dish. Carne asada tacos, rice & beans please and some horchata!! So good.

It was the perfect ending to my 2 days of Camp Tucson. I skipped out on day 3's Empire Rita ride and more notably breakfast at Bobo's (gotta save something for next visit).

Thanks Scott for putting on this event and thanks to you and Eszter for letting me crash on the floor.

1 comment:

  1. Always glad to have you down to ride. Thanks for the post, John. Happy to see the pics and hear the stories since I missed out.