July 25, 2015

Prescott: Circle Trail

This write-up will serve as a learning tool, not only for the Circle trail, but any ride that may go above your normal comfort zone. It's a 5 step plan. Simple, really. It's the sure-fire way to guarantee your ride will end in complete self destruction.
  • Plan a long route. In this case a 55 mile loop around Prescott, AZ.
  • Go for a longer high intensity ride the evening before. (30 miler in 97º temps will do)
  • Celebrate that great ride with a few drinks - it was national tequila day, I had to!!
  • Stay up late & get up early! (Midnight, then alarm goes off at 3:30a)
  • Don't eat your normal pre-ride breakfast, instead opt for the convenience of McD's!!
Cool logo too.
First, there was that really fun, high paced (for me) ride on Friday evening up at Brown's Ranch. Those trails are so dang fun and typically 7 degrees or so cooler than in the city proper.
Ventured out onto the new stuff for a bit.
Here's the route:

Now, back to the Prescott ride. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good at 3:30a, I loaded up and was on the road shortly after 4:30a to meet Jeff & Nancy by 7a at the Walmart in Prescott. This would be our start/ending location.
P-town has it going on. Great map too!
Locals recommended doing the loop CCW and from that location since the trails we'd ride early are exposed to the sun while most of the remaining route has tree cover.

I ended up running into Jeff & Nancy at the McD's stop in Cordes Junction where we slammed a quick breakfast. It's not that the food didn't sit well, it just didn't give me what my bowl of oatmeal does. Either way, we were off and riding around 7:30a.

We entered the route onto the Sundog trail and made our way towards the Dells whoopin' it up on the finely contoured trail. The trail was new to me and it didn't disappoint.
High point of Sundog.
Sundog cutting across a grassy hillside, Dells in the distance.
Reminds me a little bit of the Kentucky Camp section of the AZT.
Jeff taking off on the final downhill into the Dells.
The Granite Dells are a true masterpiece and quite the oddity for Arizona. Giant granite outcroppings seemingly poking out of the grassy floor and surrounded by lakes. Do not adjust your set, it's REAL!!
Jeff samples a small slice of granite.
The granite makes for wonderfully technical trail riding.
Great views from the Circle trail.
We cruised through the Dells since most of the Circle trail skips the highly technical granite obstacle course. Instead it opts to stay on the wide bike path on the northern end of the loop. The last bit leading over towards US89 faded into an open field with no visible trail.
Any route will do here.
The easy miles continued along Willow Creek Reservoir before hitting some rubbly HAB sections on the Embry Riddle trail. It was a short, but taxing section. I almost knew at that instant I was in for a long day.
Granite Mtn.
 The Longview trail provided a great view of Granite Mtn and a fun downhill over to Williamson Valley rd.

So far, most of the route was new to me, but I recognized the next section. We'd ride through a neighborhood to trail 341. It was another loose, steep and eroded section of trail that seriously had me contemplating bailing on the ride. Most of the trail is rideable, but I had nothing going. Pretty much felt like a turd, walking way more than I should. I couldn't keep pace with Jeff & Nancy whatsoever and felt bad for making them wait. The route offers plenty of easy bailouts since it's never really far from downtown, just hang a left and you'll be outta there!

I grunted on, knowing that Jeff & Nancy altered their schedule so they could join me on the ride, I couldn't bail now! Suck it up. Heck, I even managed a slow uphill crash on a loose section of trail where my front tire nipped a rock and shot out from under me. Frustrating to say the least.

I devoured a quick snack in hopes of finding life in my legs. Jeff reminded me of the improved trail surface forthcoming. I needed some easy spinning as we were only 21 miles into our day. The trail went up and over a rise, crossing Granite Basin rd. Things were about to get fast and fun!!
Starting a screamin' fast descent on trail 332.
Rails to trails section after Iron Springs rd.
I was starting to feel better, mostly because we were cruising downhill. I blew past the turnoff to more singletrack along trail 332, but Jeff anticipated this and shouted at me to stop!! Back on 332 we stumbled onto a tech garden full of obstacles created out of tree stumps. There was also an old freestanding stone fireplace out in the open. Kinda strange, yet cool.
Jeff practicing his skillz.
What's the story here?
We continued on with 332 as it wound it's way through the forest. Nancy made an unfortunate meet 'n greet with a trailside boulder. Only a small flesh sacrifice. Onward we went.
Keep an eye out for trailside snafus.
More contoured goodness.
The next few miles and trail combos were a bit of a blur. Not because I crushed it or anything, rather due to the sameness of the terrain. Awesome forested singletrack!! Once again I was left in the dust, grinding away.

I was really looking forward to the Wolverton trail. It's an extended downhill into White Spar CG. First, you have to get to the top. I continued to struggle along, but knew relief was coming. We were now almost 35 miles into the ride and it was warm out. Forecast highs were around 90º, cool by Phoenix standards, not so much when things aren't going your way.
Views starting to open up.
Side view of Thumb Butte.
White Spar from Wolverton trail.
Wolverton seems to go on forever!! 4+ miles of downhill with some chunky bits tossed in for good measure. I could hear the traffic on US89 as I approached the campground. It was right about then when I ran out of water. No big deal since water is available at White Spar, but it was a reminder to me of how my ride was going. I typically can get through a 60 mile ride in warm temps with 100oz of water along with my other drinks. On this day I consumed all 100oz by mile 39, plus my other stuff!! I was also now more determined than ever to complete the loop.
Granite Mtn. & Thumb Butte in the foreground.
We took a nice break, emptied trash and topped off our water. I mentioned to Jeff & Nancy that they shouldn't wait for me, but they weren't quite ready to ditch me. We shoved off onto trail 396 where good climbing awaited.
Lower Goldwater Lake.
We popped out at the Senator Hwy to begin the newly constructed Ranch trail #62. After a short HAB to start the trail, it climbs at a nice grade for miles. Jeff warned me of the next couple of trails: Boy Scout & Turley. I thought I was ready.

The first section of loose trail was rideable. I turned off onto the Boy Scout trail and things were going well. It was rugged, appeared less traveled, but was still manageable. Things were looking promising. Then the trail choked down into a boulder strewn mess. The ensuing HAB was tough because the overgrowth hid the boulders making the trekking dicey.
One of the clear sections.
Big bike friendly.
As it is on long rides, all bad things come to an end. Boy Scout finally relented, but I missed my turn and the payoff was more HAB back to where I was. The Turley trail was a different kind of misery for me. My legs were all but dead, no power on the uphills and there were plenty. The trail was almost overgrown with woody bushes, but that wasn't the issue. The ups & downs were almost all constructed on fall-line approaches. Loose rubble over hardpack isn't a winning combo when going straight up or down a hill. Repeat this madness about a dozen times and my frustration and exhaustion were reaching their limits.
This 5' Bull snake didn't budge as I walked by barely a foot away.
Doesn't look too heinous, but I was done. HAB mode.
I took a few breaks on Turley, hoping it would magically end when I stood up. The end did eventually come at the junction with the new Badger Mountain trail. At first my enthusiasm was stifled as I saw my track turn right - uphill. But, as I started to climb my legs slowly found a little juice. This trail was a poster child for bench cut trail construction. The climbing was divine. The trail curved around Badge Mtn, aka P-Mtn, climbing higher than the surrounding expensive homes overlooking Prescott. I came to a well placed bench and knew this was the summit. Cue the 5 mile downhill blast-o-rama!!
Finish line in sight!! Only a long downhill away.
The Dells and a fire brewing up in the Coconino NF.
As I was descending I received a text from Jeff, they were done and going to grab a table at Lonesome Valley Brewery in Prescott Valley. Good call. I still had 3 miles of bliss to go.

The downhill was super fun, not steep, just fast cruising all the way down to the SR69 underpass. Five minutes later I was done. Somehow I managed to keep it together for the entire day. I was so close to throwing in the towel early on, but I've been know to abide by the Rule #5 creed, kinda take pride in that.

The Circle trail was in the books. It's a great loop, way tougher than anticipated. I hear some work is slated for Turley & Boy Scout. Perhaps a re-visit will be in order when that's complete. Until then, I have no desire to ride either of those two again. I'll save that kind of stuff for the Arizona Trail.

Thanks again to Jeff & Nancy for waiting all day on my slow ass. The post ride pizza helped ease the suffering.

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