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!


  1. Thanks for convincing me to stop for some pics. Strava is dumb anyway haha!

  2. That feature on Aerie? I call it the toilet seat !