December 14, 2014

Gila-Ripsey Loop

My buddy Randy was turning the big 5-0 and wanted to ride Ripsey since we missed out on it last year during our futile attempt to find the now-defunct Artesian Well. I put together a slightly different Ripsey loop, one aimed at being a future AES event, combining the AZT along the Gila River, some dirt roads and the famed Ripsey segment of the AZT back to the trailhead.
Fog hung over the Gila in the brisk morning air.
It was a chilly morning, but not uncomfortably cold. I was a bit surprised to see a thick fog bank hovering over the Gila River as I drove up to the trailhead. The rest of the group was gathering and soon we started out, 10 strong.

I opted to leave my jacket in the car, knowing I'd only be cold for the first 10 minutes on the fast downhill to the river. Climbing would ensue and body temps rose rapidly.
Mid-December in the desert, it must be autumn!
Eszter cruising by one of my favorite overlooks.
The trail was in great shape, Jeff was diggin' it.
I wonder where the river is??
18 miles into our ride, it was time to get wet.
After wading across the Gila River, we stopped for lunch then proceeded to climb up a steady grade of jeep roads until we crested out at the Florence-Kelvin Hwy.
As we climbed away from the river a look back towards the Gila River Canyons was a special treat.
Dale's Butte can be seen near the left, the AZT climbs the canyon to its right.
A confluence of dirt roads near the top.
Brad had long since ditched the group, testing out his racing legs, Scott & Eszter peeled left at the F-K Hwy while the rest of us opted for a shorter entry into Ripsey wash since the day was growing late. We followed Red Cloud rd for a bit then veered left at a cattle pen. This was my first time going this route and eventually the road petered out into a large sandy wash. Typically, this doesn't bode well for non-fat bike riders, but this wash was slightly downhill allowing us to ride the entire way!

I didn't stop for any pics through here, had to keep ol' mo going forward. Imagine your tires rolling through 4" of sand for a couple of miles.
The gang getting psyched for the big climb. (look closely at the tall peak on the horizon)
We rejoined the AZT and our route right at the short grunty HAB before the final downhill into Ripsey wash. The bonus on this day, was the rideability of Ripsey wash in the uphill direction!! The moisture from the previous day packed the sand down just enough.

We were now on the flanks of The Big Hill. So daunting from afar, but really not too bad at all.
The good news: I finally cleaned one of the upper switchbacks on the Big Hill!! Yay. The bad news: I had to stop twice on the climb because my quad cramped!! Yow!

By the time I crested the ridge half of the group had already begun their descent to the trailhead. Jeff and I took a few moments to soak in the views then headed off too.
Jeff on the Ripsey ridgeline. Everyone should put their tires here at least once!!
Kearny far below.
The descent off Ripsey is a hoot. A few punchy climbs to keep you on your toes, but otherwise it's 5+ miles of downhill bliss to the trailhead. The final steep pitch is known as the switchback attack section, I forget the total number of switchbacks but I'll guess it at 15 or so. It's fun to see how many you can clean without a dab or hopping. I only missed 2, my best score to date!! Not bad for a non-cornering 29er HT.
Top of the switchback attack section.
I was in trail sweeper mode and met up with the others back at the parking lot. Both Randy & Derek were stoked to finally ride Ripsey after a year of waiting. It's a really nice loop with the Gila AZT addition and should make a nice AES event, although that route will be about 11 miles longer with the addition down to Ripsey Ranch.

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