November 15, 2014

AES: PPPulverized

I've had November 15th circled for almost a year. I showed up for the 81 mile, Pulverizer, route last year only to feel like garbage and bail to the 50, Punisher, course. An ill timed trail running excursion did me in. That wasn't going to happen this year. Period.

I guess I'm responsible for putting these routes together, hatched from an email by Ray. After last year's inaugural running we decided to add a third shorter option for folks. Pick your poison if you will, the C-ride: a 33 mile 6k effort up & down Montana Mtn, B-ride: Tack on another 17 mile loop through the demanding Telegraph Canyon adding another 2k of climbing and the A-ride: The full meal deal, 81 miles & 13k including a 4x4 extravaganza and the AZT from the Gila River.

My logic was simple, I put these gpx tracks together, so I should at least do the route once, right? The week leading up to the event I kept trying to estimate a finish goal time. Midnight? 11pm? The more I thought about it the more 10-11p seemed reasonable based on my ride history. I also knew by starting at 5am and finishing late, no one else would be around. A bit of a bummer for an AES event because that's half the attraction, the post-ride festivities!!

I knew a few people would be camping out Friday night, so I gathered most of my stuff up early and made the short trek over to Picketpost TH to see Scott & Eszter, who recently completed one of the coolest bikepacking trips evah!! Check out their blogs for the full rundown from CDTbike!! It was good to catch up with them, enjoy a fantastic sunset and chat with a couple other riders before heading home for the night.
Arizona sets the bar high for sunsets!!
3:15a came quickly. I was ready. Out at Picketpost our group was small, three of us, Carlos, Jason and I, set off shortly after 5am. The race clock started at 5:30a when we hit the dirt road and we stayed together for a few miles. We split off FR8 onto FR650 and Jason was the first to pull ahead. Carlos followed suit a mile or so later. I kept a comfortable pace going as I watched their lights dancing in the darkness ahead.

First light broke somewhere near the main climb on FR650 and I lost visual contact of the others for a while. I stopped for a quick snack and to convert to daytime riding. It was a gorgeous morning, cool, clear and only a slight breeze. This year the switchback climb was much more forgiving, no headwind to deal with and the road surface seemed much less rubbly.
Daytime conversion at dawn. Picketpost Mtn. beginning to fade in the distance.
Northern views and trees on upper FR650.
Near the singletrack turnoff to the AZT. Superstition Mtns in sight.
I had three time-check goals for the day, the first being the top of Montana Mtn and the AZT in under 3 1/2 hours. I made it in 3:20. It was now time to reap the rewards from our catclaw trimming ride a week earlier. Of course the one bush we missed jabbed my left middle & index finger making a bloody mess all over my brake lever. I swear catclaw has absolutely no redeeming qualities!!

I cleaned all but 4 switchbacks on the upper descent with those all coming on the final third of the drop. After the typical on/off/on/off due to the numerous wash crossings I was back at FR650 and ready for a snack.

The next section of trail is pretty good, just a bit tough to follow in spots due to the terrain camouflaging the trail. One more crossing of FR650 led me into Whitford Canyon. The trail through here is very scenic albeit sandy in stretches. I was more than glad to finally leave the wash area behind in favor of the rocky ridgeline descents.
There are some fast sections too!!
A touch of Sedona?
Climbing away from the wash.
Whitford Canyon.
I was feeling good as I turned onto the L.O.S.T. for the final 4 miles into Superior. Lunch was calling and I was aiming to make my noon time check. I pulled into the medical clinic at 11:55, not for services, as this was a pre-determined water stop. Last year the clinic was closed on Sat, but there are functioning hose barbs on the exterior. This year the clinic was open!!
US60 culvert.
No sooner had I sat down for some pizza, I saw Neil whiz by on US60 - the leader of the 50 miler racers!! 36 miles in and a 2 1/2 hour head start and I was caught. Four more would catch me before the AZT turnoff. Those fellas are strong & fast!!

I went inside to inquire about a water fountain, there was one just inside the door, but the practitioner offered up chilled bottled water from a cooler!! Yes, please. Outside, Ray & Yuri now approached after another speedy guy from BC went by. They too were stoked to get good H2O. It seemed like a flurry of activity was going on in a 10 minute span as Carlos & Jason rode by after hitting the local Circle K in Superior. I called out to them, but they didn't hear me as they turned south onto Telegraph Canyon rd. It must've been 15 minutes later when Ray, Yuri and I left the clinic as Bart came rolling down the 60.
Picketpost Mtn. from Telegraph Canyon rd.
The three of us rode together for a few miles on Telegraph Canyon rd. including a ride-by of artillery booming into the hillside. An Arizona ride isn't complete without the sound of gunfire....and HAB. There was about to be plenty of that. The other two wished me well as they sped off ahead, Bart followed shortly and halfheartedly tried to sway me into turning right at the AZT junction to complete the 50 mile route. I was having none of it. Been there, done that and I wasn't happy about it all year. I had plenty of food, lights, my water filter and I didn't feel too bad considering how rough Telegraph Canyon was.

I was a little sluggish on the final pitches of Telegraph Canyon rd, but figured there was a ton of downhill coming up. I was now at the point of no return on Ajax Mine rd. Into the abyss of the pain cave I went.
Weaver's Needle on the far left horizon while Picketpost Mtn. shrinks behind a ridge.
Same vantage point looking east.
Entering into an off road paradise.
Ajax Mine rd drops steeply into the rugged Gila Canyons, but much attention needs to be given due to its loose rutted nature. The riding was faster, but still exhausting as my triceps were getting sore from the barrage of rock hits all day.

Down below Ajax Mine a bunch of 4x4's were crawling up a tight canyon, spotters in place, as they wiggled their vehicles up to the mine. I passed by a few groups of ATV's, 4-wheelers, lifted trucks, etc. Anything that could handle sand and rocks was out in force. It was a fantastic afternoon to be down by the Gila.

I traversed up & over to Box Canyon rd and continued my downhill trend on a well traveled gravel wash. The downhill spinning was about to come to an end as I made the hard left onto Martinez Canyon rd.
Box Canyon rd.
I was keeping an eye on the time as I wanted to be at the Gila River by sunset, which was around 5:30p. It was sometime around 4p when I started what I'll call the Brass Knuckles of the Gila - a 5 summit 4x4 proving ground over extremely rugged terrain.
The rock crawlers were out in force. I wasn't fast enough to capture this guy at the top of the hill - it was super steep!!
Summit #1.
Golden hour beginning to settle in.
I was slowly ticking off the summits, enjoying the out of this world views while pushing my bike up the steep rocky climbs. I think I was on #3 when I encountered a group of 4x4's pulled off to the side. As I rode by one fella asked if I wanted any Starbursts, uh, hell yeah!! We chatted a bit as they were curious about where I started and where I was headed. All 5 or 6 of them glazed over when I described the route and what remained. One guy said 'You know it's going to be dark when you get there?' I chuckled a bit & nodded in confirmation, 'Oh, I know it'.
Rubble, rubble, rubble.
I was HAB'ing up summit #4, eyes shielded from the direct blast of the setting sun, when a water bottle caught my attention. It was one of those cheapo 16oz bottles you find in cases and it looked kinda full. I nudged it with my foot and bent down to check it out. Not only was there still about 14oz left, it was ICE COLD!!! I didn't think twice, I slammed it. Ahhhh. It was so refreshing at a time when I could feel the fatigue setting in on my legs. I stashed the bottle & moved on, one more summit remained and it was 100% HAB.
Dale's Butte pokes up on the left, the AZT is getting close.
A wicked solid rock stairstep descent.
Only a few miles from the Gila River.
Summit #5 gave these jeeps all they could handle.
Some of the best views down here were at the top of #5. The sun was now low on the horizon around 5p casting a warm glow on the Gila Canyons. I was ready for dinner and a nice break from the constant pounding the terrain was dishing out. I only had a short ridgeline ride followed by a steep sketchy descent down to the lush river valley to go. I would reach the Gila right at sunset, 5:30p. I also noticed there were still two sets of fresh tire tracks, Carlos & Jason weren't too far ahead.
Beautiful place to ride a bike!!
Looking east towards Kelvin.
Dale's Butte, the 'real' Picketpost.
Finally!! The Gila River comes into view.
Believe it or not, I actually had 4G coverage for the pics above!! I sent a few update texts to let some people know I was doing ok then made my way down to 'the spot' at the Gila for filtering water. As I was rolling in I heard a helicopter take off from the Cochran side of the river! My first thought was one of the other two ran into trouble, but thankfully that wasn't the case. There ended up being two SAR copters circling overhead for a good 20 minutes, obviously looking for someone.
No SOS button here.
I was just over 12 hours in, 60 miles down with 21 to go, but I could tell my legs were just about done with climbing. I opted to take a much needed extended break while I took care of water, food and light setup. The fellas tracks were fresh in the moon dust, but I never caught a glimpse of them. I knew the final push was going to be slow, just keep moving. I never doubted my decision to go for the big loop, I had been mentally prepared from the start to spend a solid 18 hours+ out on the trail. Water bladder & belly satisfied, I left the Gila shortly after 6p in almost full darkness. Barely 100 feet into the ride away from the river a gray fox darted across the dirt!! Its fluffy tail disappearing into the brush.
The mighty Gila, life giver of the desert.
I was now faced with the 7 mile 2000' climb out of the Gila River Valley. I was able to ride more than I thought I would gaining the saddle in a little over 2 hours. It was turning into a gorgeous evening, cool temps & clear starry skies filled Martinez Canyon. Silence. I killed my lights a few times to soak it in. Of course I also periodically scanned the canyon walls looking for curious eyeballs from a certain large kitty. Nothing.
Just me, my rig, and darkness taking a 10 minute break.
Martinez Canyon proved much more difficult than I would have liked. The trail towards the north end has substantial storm damage leaving small rockfall areas of course surrounded by catclaw. My climbing legs were essentially dead, but my HAB legs felt fine. So HAB I did. If the trail pointed up, I was walking for the most part. Being on a remote trail solo at night also kept me from taking any unnecessary chances on the trail. There were plenty of sections I typically ride out there that I chose to bypass. This was no place for a mishap.

I eventually made it to the boundary of Passage 17, Alamo Canyon, 12 1/2 miles to go!! There's a barbed wire ranch gate there and it had recently been re-worked. Let's just say the barbed wire was taught as was the barbed loop digging into the wooden post. The last thing I wanted to do at that hour was wrestle with a barbed ranch gate. 10 minutes later I finally broke it free.

Another long break ensued. I was ready to be finished. I was also ready for a nap!! Only one climb remained before a mostly downhill final 10 miles. It couldn't go by fast enough. I was beginning to have flashbacks from my delirious state on the AZT300 through here. I was completely exhausted of all energy required for any sort of power moves, quads fatigued more than I can ever remember. The final 10 miles actually seemed to go by fairly quick, contoured downhill grades sure help!!

It was now well after midnight, I was still a few miles south of the trailhead and I could hear music thumping off in the desert. I never did see the source, but somebody was having a good time out there!!

Some nice cruising and few more HAB bits went by and I crested the final rise in the trail. A few turns later I popped out into the parking area. It was 1:24am. Picketpost Pulverizer - Complete!!

Carlos was sound asleep in his truck bed next to my car and somehow woke up while I was packing my things together. We shared a few stories from the day and I found out both he and Jason finished around 10:30p. They also arrived at the Gila River only 30 minutes before I did, I must've missed them by minutes!

I'm glad I stuck with it. It's a really cool route, but extremely unforgiving. There are NO easy miles out there. My entire body was worked over afterwards. My legs finally feel normal 3 1/2 days later. Hat tip to the Pulverizer class of '14, 3-for-3!! I can't say I have a desire to ever do that route in one day ever again. Afterall, I still have a redemption date with the Gila100 in a couple of months.....

November 8, 2014

Montana Mtn via FR172

This Saturday is the AES Picketpost Punisher event and a few of us decided we should go trim back some catclaw on the Arizona Trail (AZT) portion of the route. This also gave me an opportunity to check out a different route to the top of Montana Mtn. A westside approach up FR172. Either way, FR172 or FR650, there's a bunch of climbing. We were hoping the west approach would at least be on a better riding surface.

The regulars showed up, Jeff/Nancy and I would be riding up FR172, while Ray & Bart took some bikepacking gear up FR650.

It was nice and cool for the start just after 8am. A couple miles of AZT led us to Hewitt Station rd where we quickly rattled off 4 mostly downhill trending miles to our turnoff. The elevation profile pretty much said it all, gradually climbing from mile 6 to 15, then the road turns towards the sky. How much was the million dollar question.
We were immediately greeted with fantastic views of the Superstitions.
Nancy & Jeff on Hewitt Canyon rd. aka FR172.
Mashing away near a cool outcropping.
Before we knew it 15 miles were behind us and off in the distance we could see two dirt roads. One wound it's way to the left and looked enticing, the other slanted up to the right. We watched as most of the vehicle traffic that had passed us went up to the right. We came to a consensus that we too, would be heading to the right.
Still a long way to go to get up there!!
The early miles are contoured well.
Nearing our split.
That's our route angling upward on the far hillside.
Per usual, when the road kicks up Nancy is gone!! I was spinning away in granny gear, but eventually the pitch made all us walk a bit.
Almost looking down on the Superstitions.
This was the final push, a good bit of HAB.
Four Peaks make an appearance.
Onto the AZT for the last couple of miles before the singletrack.
At the singletrack juction we ran into a couple out pre-riding the Punisher course, they opted to not take the singletrack down and skip the event altogether. It's quite a challenging route even for the heartiest of riders.

It ended up being 21 miles from the Picketpost trailhead to the top of Montana Mtn. via FR172, took us just over 3 1/2 hours. By comparison FR650 is 17 miles to the top and about 3 hours, but the road is rougher and the views, while good, aren't as good as FR172. I guess I can't really say one route is better than the other, it's about even, maybe a slight nod to FR172 for omitting the multiple AZT crossovers creating a more defined loop.

We took a nice lunch break soaking in the views from high above.
The Superstitions are recognizable from any direction!!
Less dust to the east.
Town of Superior & Mt. Lemmon in the dusty haze.
It was now time for the task at hand: Kill the Catclaw!!! The plan was simple, ride down the trail and trim as we go. Only a few minutes into our clipping Ray & Bart came up behind us. Now armed with 5 sets of clippers, the catclaw stood no chance.
Top of Montana Mtn in the scrub.
Ray & Bart making their way down a series of switchbacks.
There are a few breaks in the action on the descent.
Somebody is happy to have a working bike!!
The trail may be a bit primitive, but the scenery is world class.
We follow the wash below out of the canyon.
Clip, clip, clip.
It was getting rather warm down in the wash and our progress was slow due to the overgrowth on the trail. Jeff, Nancy & I decided we'd take FR650 back to the trailhead instead of remaining on the AZT. Los Hermanos was calling. The other two were now debating the merits of spending the night, but opted to at least stick with the AZT a bit longer. They too would bail to FR650 at the second crossing after running low on water.

Back at the trailhead we met a very nice older couple who were thru-hiking the AZT from Utah to Mexico!! They had begun their journey on Sept. 15th and were targeting the end of Nov. for a finish with a two week break earlier near Pine. Hopefully our tips on finding some desert water caches was helpful and they are continuing the southbound trek.
Picketpost Mtn.
Our work was almost done for the day, an alternate route up Montana Mtn was explored, the AZT corridor was mostly cleared of thorny bits, all that remained was to crush some Mexican food.