March 8, 2015

Bittersweet Aroma

I was running out of weekends leading up to the AZTR750 in early April and I wanted to get in the annual Picketpost to Kelvin shuttle. Each year I hear how so many local riders want to do this ride, but have never ventured out to make it happen.

This year was going to be a little different, in hopes to spur more people into coming out for the ride. This time riders would have a few options. A) Ride the traditional route on the AZT from Picketpost to the Kelvin TH. B) Ride the AZT to the Gila River, ford the river & take a series of dirt roads up to the AZT above Ripsey wash and then follow the AZT down to the Kelvin TH. C) Bikepack it!! Do either route above, camp at the Kelvin TH & ride the AZT back to Picketpost the following day.

Of course I opted for choice C.

This would also be my barometer ride for my ailing wrist. It was still bugging me, but I could ride. I needed to know if it could withstand the punishment the AZT was about to dole out on me.

The call went out and by ride morning we had 17 riders eager to put rubber on some primo AZT dirt. Guy was the hero of the day, bringing his large pickup and bike trailer capable of hauling 11 bikes & people!! We quickly figured out the shuttle logistics down in Kelvin, as we didn't want anyone having to make an extra drive after their ride. My car was the only one that would need to be moved Sunday morning, but we had a plan for that.

A few slower guys took off well before the main group as we met up with a few more fellas doing the bikepacking option up at Picketpost. Ray was one of those. He was desperately trying to get his head right prior to the AZT300 and needed a chill paced overnight ride to do so. This was it.
The group, minus the 3 earlybirds and myself. Guy's mass transit system on display.
Time to roll south from Picketpost.
Considering the logistics involved and the number of riders we departed almost on schedule. Ray & I led the group out, but after a few miles I had to pull over. I typically take a long time to warm up and while the pace wasn't fast it was slightly uncomfortable. I settled in near the back end of the group and it was probably a good thing as minor mechanicals were the theme of the day for everyone else.
Ezra battling some tire woes.
Guy all armored up.
The group had split up a few miles earlier and after Ezra fixed his tire near the 12 mile mark we were ready to enter Martinez Canyon. As soon as we rounded the corner I saw Ray walking his bike up the trail towards us. Rut-roh. One of his brake springs had snapped and he didn't have his extra set of pads!! He asked all of us if anyone had a set of BB7 pads, I did...until a week prior when I switched over to hydraulic brakes, same with Guy. To fully understand the scene, one must know Ray a bit. He's an Engineer by trade, meticulous in his preparation, cleans his bike after each ride, etc. He 'may' on occasion give a certain somebody some shit about bike maintenance. A few of us picked up on this situation rather quickly and probably had a bit too much fun at Ray's expense. He was bummed, mad at himself for not double checking his parts list and whatnot. He tried riding with only the back brakes, but didn't fare too well. So, only a few hours into his 'chill bikepacking, head clearing ride' he was headed back to his truck. I felt bad for him, knowing how much the mental game weighs on you for an event like the AZT300. I was still hopeful he'd rally the troops for April.
Clearly, everyone was lending their full support.
The first set of swichbacks in Martinez Canyon.
A little HAB up the next set.
It's not often we get to follow the green path through the desert.
Someone was out performing trail maintenance recently. Thank you!
Sometime during the 7 mile descent to the Gila, my wrist started to really bother me. I think it was the extended use of the brakes, but I was becoming more and more uncomfortable. We finally reached the river, probably an hour after I thought we'd be there. Guy & Ben stayed on the AZT while Ezra, Rob, Arturo and I forded the river to head towards Ripsey. We ate lunch, filtered water and began the climb out of the river basin.
Arturo trying to blind me.
Coke ovens near Cochran.
Fantastic vistas of the Gila River Canyons.
Up, up, up we go.
I could tell Arturo was beginning to tire a bit, some of these hills required a little extra oomph.
By the time we reached the Florence-Kelvin Hwy, Rob & Arturo decided to beeline down to the trailhead. It was getting late and a nighttime finish was pretty much guaranteed. Ezra and I pushed on towards Ripsey in hopes of making the ridgeline before sunset.
A roving shower??
The light show began down in Ripsey wash.
The Big Hill still in front of us, the ridgeline would be dark upon our arrival.
We reached the gate at the end of the sandy wash, I told Ezra to not wait for me as my descent would be slow on two fronts: darkness & wrist. I watched his light steadily move up the mountain ahead of me, last seeing it disappear over the ridge. I paused at the top to take in the darkness, the solitude, the silence. It's a special place to be. I was just hoping to be able to ride down to the trailhead.

I went extremely slow, walking a bit more than usual. About halfway down I was constantly trying to readjust my grip to ease the discomfort. It was not going well. I was getting increasingly frustrated with my progress and the impending notion that my AZTR750 would not happen in 2015. By the time I rolled into Kelvin, some 30 minutes after Ezra, I knew the 750 wasn't going down.

I was too stubborn to throw in the towel for the next days return ride though. In hindsight, I probably should have.

We all hung out in the parking lot for a while, toons playing, tales shared. Arturo opted to head home that night and drive my car back to Picketpost while giving Guy a lift back to his truck. The only issue? My car wouldn't start!! No one had jumpers, so I had to wake Ben up to see if he had some. Thankfully he did and Arturo was soon on his way.

Sunday morning rolled around and we left Kelvin under cool skies. The stupid section of AZT wasn't too bad either, in fact it had a nice display of wildflowers.
Carpet of gold on the desert floor.
Quick glimpse of the Gila River.
The day was shaping up rather nicely and once we were along the Gila, the trail seemed to flow endlessly. I tend to believe the AZT rides a bit better along the river going westbound, the climbs generally feel less punchy. Of course you have to pay the piper at some point. The trail tax often comes due about 16 miles west of Kelvin when the trail turns northbound. 2000' over 7 miles, but I kinda like it.
Expansive views along the Gila remind you of the remoteness of the area.
We enjoyed a fantastic display of wildflowers.
One rock cairn or giant arrowhead?
Ezra on the cusp of the Gila River Canyons.
By the time we reached the watering hole of the Gila things had warmed up considerably. It was time for a food stop, water check and some cool down techniques. Headbands, arm coolers & jerseys were doused in the Gila, ahhh. Time to climb.
Ezra & Rob were already making their way up that jeep road when Dale's Butte came into view.
I was zoning out and almost rode over this Bull snake!
Approaching the upper 1/3 on the Gila climb.
Even the Voodoo can appreciate a solid vista.
Each time I ride through here, I'm blown away. 
Reunited at the Gila saddle.
We peeled away from our shady rest stop on the Gila saddle and entered Martinez Canyon. We made much better time through the canyon than I thought we would. It's such a wonderful place to ride a bike.
Steady climbing in Martinez Canyon.
Looking east with 10 miles to go.
Ezra & Rob ready to blast off down the trail.
We re-grouped one last time with 10 mostly downhill miles to go. While I often look forward to this section of trail, I had other thoughts on this day. The bumpy sustained downhills were the major contributor to my growing wrist pain. I just wanted to be done and swore I'd avoid techy trails for a while.
Kurt & Kaitlyn sighting!! Off to enjoy their own bikepacking outing.
Weaver's Needle pointing on the horizon.
Relieved to be back at Picketpost.
The guys were already changed and ready to head out when I arrived. My big question, would my car start? Yep, fired right up. Next order of business get the battery tested!!

I was still convinced my wrist injury was ligament related and had no plans to stop riding. I'd just take it easy for a few weeks while it healed.

From the post ride chatter, it sounded like everyone had a great time doing their route of choice, well, everyone except Ray. But, even he ended up with a nice out-n-back ride, just not what was planned.

I may keep the same options for next year and hopefully more riders venture out to this slice of singletrack heaven.
The 2-day bikepacking / car camping route.

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