March 29, 2014

Salty-Gila Tour '14: Oasis in Gila Country

 Continued from Day 1: Urban Trail Connectors

Day 2: An Oasis in Gila Country

We were awake before sunrise, ate breakfast, packed up and were off onto the trails shortly after 7am. It was a beautiful morning, sunny & cool...for now. The forecast was for the upper 80's and this day would be the most demanding physically since we had to ride 30 miles or so before doing the Picketpost to Kelvin segment. That alone is a nice days ride.
Sunrise over our Vortex camp.
Good to see the Whiskey Cactus is still stocked.
Early morning rays on the Superstition Mtns.
Saguaro Squeeze!!
We continued our rollercoaster trail riding onto the K-trail before making our exit from the Gold Canyon trail system.
A bit tough to get behind the seat while bikepacking, but it works! Photo by Larry.
We chatted with a couple buddies setting out for a spin as we made our way onto a powerline connector avoiding the busy US60 shoulder. I had sent Scott a new track for this area, but had yet to ride it myself. Scott informed me there was a convenience store out in Queen Valley, right on route!! This could be very helpful, possibly cutting out 8 miles of an out-n-back ride into Superior if we needed food/water before setting our course southbound on the AZT.
Blooming hedgehogs as we put the Superstitions behind us.
Better than 70mph vehicles buzzing your shoulder!!
Our only question upon arriving in Queen Valley was if the store was open at 10am on a Sat. It was, but not before we stumbled onto the 19th green's watering hole. We immediately ordered up a couple of ice cold Coke's, ahhh!!
Larry enjoying the shade & cold beverage.
This was a good place to unwind for a few minutes.
Fitz Stop convenience store, open daily. 25¢ water dispenser too.
We had plenty of food, but topped off our water to make it down to the Gila River. No need for a Superior stop now. Onward to Picketpost!! It was rather warm, but the miles were easy. During the first few miles of Hewitt Station rd we encountered a number of target shooting enthusiasts blasting rounds into the hillside. It was nice to put the clatter behind us.
Nice views into the Superstition Wilderness from Hewitt Station rd.
It was just after noon when I reached the AZT junction. I was a bit in front of Larry, so I found some shade as things were really starting to warm up. I wasn't super excited about climbing the next 14 or so miles into the heat of the day, but we could take it easy. It's a TOUR afterall.
AZT junction, Apache Leap in the background.
Each gate on the AZT seems to have its own character.
Picketpost Mtn. from the north side of US60.
We arrived at Picketpost trailhead sometime around 1:30p. There were a bunch of cars in the lot, which is rather unusual for this place. As we were rolling through a decent sized group of riders were finishing up a nice OnB ride to the 10-mile overlook. They too were inquisitive regarding our setups and destination. We talked with them for a bit then noticed two others getting prepped for a bikepacking outing of their own.

One of the riders, Holly, was walking by and asked what we were up to. When I told her she mentioned this was her first bikepacking ride and they were getting prepared for an attempt at the AZT300 in a couple of weeks. I told her I had done the race a year ago and she insisted we talk to her partner, Josh. It was cool to hear their enthusiasm about the race. As we were getting set to leave they handed us a couple of ginger beers for dinner, ahh trail magic. We told them to look for us down by Kelvin if they were heading that way, but we wouldn't see them again.

The other group was still missing 3 riders as we left the trailhead and asked us to keep an eye out for them. It wasn't long before we came across a cramping rider, walking back to the cars. A few minutes later I found my buddy, Joe, accompanying another fairly toasted rider back to civilization. 

It was warm, borderline hot, in the mid-80's and we had a bunch of climbing to do over the next 14 miles. I made sure we didn't push too hard, taking advantage of the few shade spots along the way. It took longer than I had anticipated, but with no set camping location it didn't really matter. We only wanted to be past our water refill spot before setting down for the night.
The wildflowers came in doses along the trail.
The first of many spectacular overlooks heading south.
Larry on a ribbon of dirt.
Shade AND grass?? oh, yes.
Climbing towards the 10-mile overlook.
Rounding a corner on the ensuing descent I almost ran over this guy!
Golden hour hits Martinez Canyon.
I love riding through here, one of the best segments in the state. Even better showing a first-timer the views.
The late afternoon brought relief from the warmth.
Stunning geology throughout.
Two Gila Monsters in one hour!! I had to chase this guy around for a bit before he paused in the sunlight.
Postcard view from the Gila saddle at dusk.
It was time to don the light setup and grab a snack. The last glimmer of daylight left us as we began the 6 mile descent to the Gila River. A couple of times I stopped to watch Larry's light dance on the switchbacks above me, barely making out the towering silhouettes surrounding us. Before long we reached our watering hole, it was dark as ink without the lights down there, but we could tell the river flow was high.

I made a deal with Larry, we'll camp along the river somewhere instead of the Kelvin trailhead still some 18+ miles away. I knew there was a new gate ahead a few miles that signaled the end of this piece of singletrack. We'd either ride out close to the gate or stop when my GPS batteries died for the night.
Well worth the little bit of extra weight.
The GPS lasted, and we found a grassy tree-lined area for the night. I cooked up my dinner & cracked open that ginger beer, what a treat! Two nights in a row we dozed off under a canopy of stars, this time we had the gurgling river as a soundtrack.

Continued...Day 3: GPS Woes & Dirt Roads

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