April 19, 2014

Kelly, Casner & Red Rocks, Oh My!!

I was attempting to round up some suckers, oops, riding partners, to join me on an exploratory ride on the non-Wilderness sections of passage #19 on the Arizona Trail. Schedules, poor timing, life in general kept the usual suspects away. Then I opened my inbox and saw Ray was planning an 88 mile loop from Munds Park down to Sedona via Casner Mtn. and back. Sort of a modified AES Casner Dirty Century of old. With that my AZT plans were put on hold, but I have been burning through my 'all-day' hall passes from K like it's going out of style lately. She's really quite tolerant of my riding obsession and I'm very thankful she let's me get away as often as I do.

A few others were interested in the ride as well including the Red Rock Chica (RRC). I asked her if she was really up for the full 88 miler after the 50 BCT miles a couple weeks ago. We traded texts hashing out a kinder shorter version involving a shuttle of some sort.

I was up and out of the house long before the first hint of light, arriving in Sedona around 7am. We loaded up the urban assault vehicle and made our way up the Oak Creek Canyon switchbacks where we'd ditch the truck. A little behind schedule we were able to track Ray down at Kachina Village where he, Mark & Josiah were patiently waiting for us. Mark hasn't been riding a whole bunch, he's actually using his time to get smarter, grad school takes away bike time. Josiah, Mark's friend from OK, was in for a visit and ready to stomp out some AZ miles in the mountains after riding non-stop gravel grinders in the plains.

Our plan was to check out a short sweet piece of singletrack through Kelly Pocket, new to all of us except Ray. We started up the dirt road from Kachina Village and before we knew it Ray & Josiah were off the front as we entered the singletrack split. The three of us wouldn't see them again all day.
Singletrack of Kelly Pocket, oh so fun!!
The turnoff into Kelly Pocket was rather nondescript, but as the trail dropped into the canyon it tightened up into a winding flowy masterpiece. It was almost like a pump track, slightly up / down, dodging trees, some boulders to navigate and even a ladder logroll. I forced myself to stop for the one picture I snapped, too much fun!!

We rejoined the forest roads riding by the truck and hopped on the pavement for a short downhill to our next turn. What goes down, must go up. I got a little ahead of the other two on the climb, passing by a few campsites here & there. I came up to a camper next to the road, dog barking inside as I peddled by, then a second dog came running out, owner in tow yelling at it to come back. I put the hammer down as this nutty dog nipped at my heels for a quarter mile it seemed. Thankfully, it never made a real attempt to get me, but it sure elevated my heart rate!
A train of storm clouds brew over Humphrey's Peak.
Big skies to the west.
Mark & RRC chillin' in the cool mountain air.
Searching for our turn. Photo by RRC.
We fumbled around a bit when the track didn't quite line up with a turn we overshot, but some ATVers had spotted Ray & Josiah a few minutes prior and pointed us towards the road they sped down.

I really enjoy riding the remote forest roads, the occasional wildlife sightings, fresh air, simply knowing that very few people take the time to truly 'get away'. Throw in good camaraderie and you're all set. I found out Mark is also throwing his hat into the AZTR750 next year, he's a fantastic person to share in the suffering that will be the Highline trail & the Grand Canyon portage.
RRC's rolling selfie.
The miles were going by quickly now. Each time the road angled downward, RRC would catapult to the front, coasting right by Mark and I. I kept wondering how that was possible with how light her entire setup is.

Mark started to fade back as I'm sure his legs/lungs were feeling the effects from being off the bike. The route began to show a glimpse or two into the surrounding Wilderness areas. The fast forest roads were beginning to give way to more rubble and steeper descents. We were about to ride a 15' right-of-way between two Wilderness areas: Red Rock/Secret & Sycamore Canyon. It gives you a rare peek high above the red rocks of west Sedona. A truly magical place to ride.
We crossed this hiking trail as we began the powerline climbs.
Bill Williams Mtn off on the horizon.
RRC finding her climbing legs....ZOOM!!
The trees part and unveil this.
The red rocks the tourists flock to are over that ridge.
We'll take in the West Sedona red rock views and no pink jeeps.
Our legal path through.
Some riding before the HAB bits. Photo by RRC.
The final pitch up to the top of Casner Mtn is a real brute, loose HAB, but over soon enough. RRC and I started down the other side for a bit then took a lunch break. We gazed over the valley towards Mingus Mtn recalling the supreme effort required to drag your bike to the top of that monster. Then we noticed the clouds billowing over Black Mtn. right in front of us. Hmmmm, don't want to get caught in a thunderstorm, especially up here!! Down we go.
RRC dropping down the switchbacks of Casner Mtn.
Storm clouds rolling in....
Glad to be off the mountain.
Casner Mtn. switchbacks.
Trying to stay in front of the rain as the storm rolls over Black Mtn. Photo by RRC.
The descent down Casner isn't crazy steep, but you better be sure your brakes are working well. Speed is gained rapidly and the road surface isn't the most desirable. I was glad to be down off the hill, now let's outrace this storm!!

It was a good thing I was in the company of the RRC, she knows all the backroads in these parts. Her backyard of sorts, fantastic!! I followed her lead when we detoured off Ray's route, skipped a wash-boarded dirt road in favor of babyhead riding!! Hey, wait a minute, I thought this was going to be better!! Perhaps she was getting me back for that BCT river crossing, but the babyheads disappeared quickly and my bike handling skills returned as well.

Our new route took us past the Honanki Heritage site. Very well preserved Native American dwellings tucked under the red rocks. I'll be sure to bring K back here for a hike! We then passed the turnoff to the Palatki ruins, another fine place to re-visit.
A rare shot without a 4x4!! Photo by RRC.
The rain began to fall, we kept mashing, never really getting wet as we were on the cusp of the storm. A few rented 4x4's leap-frogged us on our way out towards the heritage site. RRC pointed the two couples in the right direction and we were on our way once again. A few miles later we declared victory on dodging the rain too! Traffic increased on Boyton Pass rd and we were glad to reach the Aerie trailhead.

RRC asked me which way I wanted to go, up or down? Down on Aerie, right? You don't want to climb some chunky trail now, do you? I asked her. Nah, not really. Besides, who's going to pass up a downhill spin on Aerie? Once on Aerie, it was hard enough to convince her to slow down for a pic or two!! It's cool to follow someone on their local trails, just rippin' it!! After a few pics on Aerie, we connected to Cockscomb then onto Dawa. WOW!! That's the stuff tourism boards put on their brochures & infomercials. Stellar.
Blast off, don't blink, she's fast!!
Eyes on the trail, eyes on the trail.....
Sorry RRC, no fast Strava times today!! Photo by RRC.
I don't know if this natural feature on Aerie has a name, if not, it should!!
RRC diggin' the G-force!!
I tried to keep up with the RRC on 'her' trails, but she knows them inside & out, tough task, but I managed ok. We finished our route with some neighborhood roads, a little bit-o-dirt and a fun climb up the biiieeach.

Thanks for getting me up north Ray, even if I only saw you for 5 minutes!! RRC still doesn't know what you look like. The northern tiers of the state are beginning to thaw out as the deserts start simmering. It's always prime riding season in Arizona...somewhere nearby. Get out there!

April 12, 2014

AZT: Boulders-Ripsey

364 days. Freeman rd trailhead. Almost 1 year to the day, same location. That's how long it had been for my good riding buddy, Seron, since he's had a taste of the Arizona Trail. He went under the knife, errrr bone saw last year, then a second surgery on an ailing ACL in Dec. He's 'mostly' been on the sidelines chomping at the bit to get out there again. Who could blame him, it would practically kill me to be down for a year. But he did it, got through PT, started commuting to work on the canals, then mixed in some light trail rides. We made it out for a couple local rides which were fun, but something was missing. Remoteness. Adventure. Grade A HAB. In short the AZT.

The annual AZTR300/750 had just started on Friday and temps were way above normal. We knew the riders that would make it to Freeman rd would be much appreciative of a fully stocked water cache, so Seron, Arturo and I opted for a big lollipop ride on the Boulders/Ripsey segments of the AZT. This would be the final stamp of approval for Seron's knee and Arturo's first time to sample the 'Best ridgeline in Arizona!!'

We got going a bit later than planned, but who cares, we all have lights and this was a pleasure cruise. First we had to ghetto rig Arturo's car/bike hitch so it wouldn't scrape the ground!! We dropped 20 gallons of water at the cache filling up the metal box. It was good to see others had contributed as well, the racers are going to be happy here!!
Plenty of clearance!!
That ought to do it.
We headed out looking forward to ripping down the fast Boulders segment. There's a short piece of powerline road akin the 'The Bitches' on the 24hr course when I thought I saw a large tree root in my way. I was on the downhill side, cruising pretty good, uh, that's no tree root.....SNAKE!!! My only option was to bunnyhop it. I cleared it, then stopped to warn Seron of the trail hazard. By now our friend had coiled up a bit, but wasn't too upset as he only lightly rattled. He was a fine specimen, by far the largest rattler I had ever seen. Apparently well fed in these parts.
Easily 5' long and thick. Love those eyes!!
We left our slithering friend behind, time to rail some singletrack!!
The boulders come & go quickly. (old pic.)
The cloud cover was a real blessing throughout the day.
Hedgehog cactus showing off.
Seron diving in & out of cacti-lined washes.
I warned Arturo about missing turns through here!!!
Arturo dropping into Ripsey Wash.
Seron casting his gaze upon the 'Big Hill'.
It's official, he's back.
Arturo on the lower approach.
The first few switchbacks aren't steep, just filled with rubble. Arturo making a solid effort here.
Can any of us clean an upper switchback today? Photo by Seron.
A resounding NO. I was close on 3 of them!! Photo by Seron.
Seron reaching the top
Arturo on the final pitch.
Feeding the soul on Ripsey Ridge. Photo by Seron.
It's been 3 years since he's stared down that view!!
Arturo soaking it all in.
Yeah, it's kinda like that. Photo by Seron.
Hey Arturo, see that long climb out there? That's the Florence-Kelvin Hwy!! Photo by Seron.
UFO sighting!!
More ridgeline riding!!
Expansive views along the knife's edge.
Seron begins the switchback attack section.
Our downhill destination at the Kelvin trailhead can be seen far below.
Lunch break.
Down at the Kelvin trailhead we topped off our bottles, ate lunch and peeked in on Trackleaders!! Where were the leaders? Onto the Antelope Peak section of AZT heading our way!! I thought we may see one or two racers on our return, we'll check on them later.

Next for us was the 4 1/2 mile graded climb up the F-K Hwy. I don't really mind it, find a comfortable gear & settle in. I was feeling good so I kept a steady middle ring pace. We re-grouped at the top and checked out a slight variation to previous routes on Red Cloud rd. In exchange for a powerline rd & bushwacking a vague 2-track we stayed on the F-K Hwy through some fast rollers to a semi-sandy jeep road down to Ripsey Ranch. It was a nice change and the sandy sections were never too long.
Top of the F-K Hwy climb.
Seron: That felt so good!!!
Arturo: What a suckfest!!! It's all in your perspective!
Team Voodoo survives a mechanical free ride!!
Almost full moon rising over Ripsey Ranch.
One final push through the sand into Ripsey Ranch.
The eerie creaks of the windmill would haunt anyone's sleep out here.
The half-dead remnants of the stately Ripsey Ranch cottonwood.
We chilled and had a snack then checked Trackleaders again to see how close Kurt was. Dang! He just passed the Freeman water cache, we need to get going. I grabbed the car keys from Arturo as he took off ahead of Seron and I. We finished getting our lights together and were about to head out when Seron's mom called for a chat!! A few minutes later we were on our way up the jeep road towards the AZT.

I saw Arturo just up ahead and when I caught up to him he said we already missed Kurt!! Bummer. I wanted to see how he was doing some 36 hours into the AZT300. Arturo passed along a quip from him that I found rather amusing, Kurt said 'The course is fast this year!', I think that has a lot to do with the rider!! Especially considering the toll the heat took on many racers during day1. For a ride recap from Kurt's perspective, check out his report.

I was now out in front, Seron and I both had cold beverages back at the car, so there was some added motivation to finish up!!

I figured we'd run into Neil & Aaron along the way. As the miles ticked off I kept re-calculating Kurt's lead over Neil, 5 miles turned to 10 then possibly 15 when I finally saw a dancing LED approaching about 2 miles from Freeman rd. It was Neil. I pulled over & turned off my light as he approached, I'm sure he wasn't expecting to see any 'day' riders out this late. I figured he'd be a bit foggy as I introduced myself. He sounded pretty whooped, but was determined to finish without much downtime. He mentioned how he was glad the sun was down as it was playing tricks on his mind!! It was a beautiful night to be out riding the AZT. As we were wrapping up our chat I saw a brilliant streak of sparks light up the sky behind Neil, it looked like someone was shooting off fireworks!! Turns out it was a meteorite and both Seron & Arturo witnessed the show as well, too cool. I wished Neil the best and he was gone. Here's are his thoughts from the AZT300.

I crossed over the wooden bridge just before the Freeman water cache and saw another LED at the box, it was Aaron. He too was a bit out of it going on no sleep for 36+ hours. After I introduced myself he thought I was a photographer!! Nah, just out for a ride & wishing you fellas good luck!! I estimated Neil to be about 5 miles ahead by now. Seron rolled up just as Aaron was getting set to leave, he had a pre-race goal of completing the course under 48 hours!! Could he do it? I wasn't so sure, but he's an incredibly strong rider, but could he muster enough in his current state? The short answer: YES!!

** All three of them broke the previous record for completing the 300 mile route!! Absolutely amazing efforts all around. Kurt: 45:07, Aaron: 48:00, Neil: 49:20 (hh:mm).
Arturo finishing up after a chain suck mishap with 2 miles to go! Photo by Seron.
Seron and I were relaxing in the warm car waiting for Arturo to come in when Seron mentioned how we made it through a whole ride without a mechanical!! It was pretty amazing actually, considering our recent history, but I noted that Arturo hadn't come in yet!! I'm speculating here, but I figure about the moment those words were uttered that's when Arturo's chain skipped a cog and was sucked into his rear wheel!! Took him about 20 minutes trailside to sort things out, but he made it in!!

This was such a fun day out on the trail. It's really an amazing route, more people should do it. I'm glad Arturo was finally able to put tires on the Ripsey segment he's heard so much about. Of course it was great to have my Burrito Brother back out in the wilds, time to put some real exploratory rides together for the summer!!