August 29, 2015

Dirty Lemmon

I think most people in the Phoenix metro area are guilty of looking to the north when thinking about escaping the desert heat during summer, myself included. I was all set to head north once again for some great Flagstaff riding when it struck me. Mt. Lemmon to the south, has some really good riding at the same elevation. Why not ride something a little different and an hour closer?

I put out the social media call to see if anyone else was interested. Of course there were!! My ride plan was to start down near Oracle early, ride the dirt control rd. up the north side of Lemmon, grab some lunch in Summerhaven then sample the trails up top before returning back down the control rd.

As I neared Willow Springs rd. I saw Neil, hammering away on the shoulder of AZ77. He left his house around 4am to meet us somewhere along the climb up. He's a super strong rider and I knew he'd have no problems catching us on the control rd, but where?

I rolled into the American Flag trailhead, outside of Oracle, just before 6am to find Jason & Jennifer getting their bikes ready for the climb. We were rolling out at 6:05a.
Early morning rays as we make our way along 11 miles of undulating terrain.
Eventually we'll start climbing into the foothills.
Jennifer topping out on an early climb.
Oracle Ridge as seen from below.
Somewhere around the 12 mile mark I crossed a bridge to find Wendi digging through her stash of bacon!! She rode down the control from the top to meet us, Digital friends no more, we powered up on bacon and started the long steady 12 mile climb up the dirt road.

A couple miles later Neil caught up to us and shortly thereafter Shannon came flying down towards us. She too rode down from the top only to turn around and ride back up. I ride with some tough chicas and usually end up eating their dust!!
The Tucson trio, Wendi, Shannon & Neil.
Jason catching up on the climb.
It was already getting a bit warm, add in the constant climbing and the sweat fest was in full effect. We were still on the lower half of the climb and there's not much shade to be found. The control road is a well maintained access road up the northeast side of the mountain. It's not too steep, just long.

Somewhere near the halfway point I began to feel a slight twinge in my left quad. Ruh-roh. Sure enough it began to cramp, aargh. I had to slow down and nurse it while the others pushed on up the road. Unfortunately for me the cramping only became worse as we rode on. It alternated from left quad to right, never fully locking up, but unpleasant enough to make me stop pedaling. At least I could walk for a bit.
Marble Peak during a cramp stop.
Trees were now prevalent about 2/3 the way up.
Ahh, shade and another cramp break. Grrrr.
The vistas were unfolding the higher we went. A real sense of how for we've come.
 There were plenty of people up on the mountain, most enjoying a weekend of camping. There seemed to be plenty of locations to throw down a tent to enjoy a personal slice of Lemmon.

I knew once I hit the pine trees there was only a few miles to go. I rounded a turn and saw a cattle guard and thought (hoped) that signaled the end of the climb. It did!! The trio was waiting with snacks and I was actually happy to see the Oracle Ridge trailhead!!
Flashbacks to my time on the AZT300 back in 2013.
The Arizona Trail is only one of a few ways down the north side of Mt. Lemmon.
A few minutes later, Jason & Jennifer topped out on the climb. Hooray!! We all made it, now let's get some lunch. First, Shannon & I made a deal to split a dinner plate sized chocolate chip cookie from the Cookie Cabin, those things are huge!! We then shot over to Sawmill Run for some food. While there we marveled at a chubby squirrel's acrobatics to get a meal of their own. Summerhaven was buzzing with people, hikers, DH'ers and a gaggle of roadies - apparently there's another way up the mountain? ;) Strange.
Mt. Lemmon summit (9131'), still a ways up even after all the climbing we did.
My legs felt rejuvenated after lunch, but I wasn't quite sure how they'd respond. So, we tested them out on the climb up past the ski hill to Aspen Draw. It may be a paved climb, but the grade is much steeper than the control rd. 1.5 miles later we were finally ready for a bit of trail!
A couple of finely tuned race machines!!
A kinder, gentler view of Oracle Ridge.
Scenic skyride at Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley.
Distant view of Mt. Wrightson (9360').
The Aspen Draw trail is a nice slice into the world of downhill (DH) mountain biking. Not terribly steep, but plenty of ledges, waterbars, roots and rocks to keep you alert at all times. Throw in a few tight techy switchbacks and it's quite the thrill ride. This trail is right at my comfort level. The last time I rode this trail was part of the famed Lemmon Drop ride - NOT a downhill only ride!!
Not sure how Shannon pulled off the smile to the camera during this drop, but she did!!
Wendi railing some corners.
A rare smooth section of trail.
Neil bashing over this sketchy logroll.
Shannon went with the 'more speed' approach.
Back down in Summerhaven we checked the time and I decided I should probably begin my descent back to Oracle. The skies were beginning to darken with an occasional rumble here and there. Shannon was parked in town, Neil took the macho way down the mountain via CDO (Canada Del Oro) trail, while Wendi and I rode back up to the Oracle Ridge trailhead where she was parked. I snagged some ice and eventually began the long downhill at 3pm.
Thunderheads were popping up all around.
Stormy weather down in the valley too.
The monsoon flow keeping the hillside green.
Another dirt road option for future rides.
Steel cow says: Moo.
It took me 50 minutes to descend 12 miles with my photo stops. This was the first time in a few rides that my wrist tightened up on me a bit. That's a long way to go using breaks over a dirt road. On the upper reaches of the downhill I was amazed how fast the temperature shot up the instant I emerged from the pines. It felt like a solid 15º rise! I kept peeking at my temp gauge on my stem and near the bottom it was firmly in the low 90's. As luck would have it, the developing storms blocked out the sun and kept things relatively comfortable while ascending the two larger remaining climbs.

I could see it raining up ahead to my right for a few miles, but with 7 miles to go the raindrops began to fall my way. They were huge and freezing cold!! It felt wonderful!! It never rained hard, just enough to make the road wet, but not terribly muddy and thankfully not sticky!!
Riding in the rain.
Abundance of shade at Peppersauce campground.
Runoff next to the road.
Full rainbow framing a localized downpour.
 Less than a half mile from my car the AZT crosses the dirt road, of course I had to ride a small piece of it. I took the left onto singletrack and followed it up and over a short rise to the American Flag Ranch. It's one of the iconic trailheads along the AZT and it recently had signage upgrades.
A really fun section of trail after surviving an Oracle Ridge descent.
Gateway to the desert.
American Flag Ranch.
Still standing the test of time.
That's western for 'Keep Out!'
I'm diggin' the new color info graphics on the AZT signs.
The light rain had stopped as I finished up the ride. It was now 5:45p, almost 3 hours from when I departed Oracle Ridge TH. I changed into some dry clothes and began an eventful drive home in the mounting thunderstorms. There were two detours on my way home due to flooding, one full road closure and one where we were directed onto the shoulder landscaping to avoid deep water. Gotta love monsoon season.

August 15, 2015

Pine, AZ: Good, Bad & Ugly

With the forecast calling for temps near 115º I knew it was a good weekend to head north. I was in the mood for something a little different. Pine, AZ came to mind as there were a few trails near town I've been wanting to check out. Plus, this would be a good time to ride more new-to-me AZT. My list of bike legal AZT miles is dwindling and this would essentially be my last chunk of such miles before leaving only Wilderness terrain to complete the full Arizona Trail.

Pine sits at a comfy 6000' and 20º cooler, that still put the Pine forecast in the mid-90's. Not exactly a 'cool' ride either. I opted to go solo on this one, not confident on the bike friendliness of the route. I arrived at the Pine trailhead around 9am to an almost full parking area. Twenty minutes later I was on my way into passage 25...but I was still on passage 26!!
Right after this gate I missed my turn by that tiny sign in the background. Oops.
My GPS track wasn't very detailed at the start and I didn't realize I missed my turn for almost a 1/2 mile. I soon figured it out after seeing too many Highline trail markers. Ok, now I'm on passage 25: Whiterock Mesa. That name just rings HAB.
First, I had to negotiate around this huge downed tree.
The route crosses over AZ87 just south of Pine. From there the trail is pretty good, only a couple of dismounts on techy bits dipping in/out of drainages. I passed a few hikers and that was it for the rest of the day.
A small sampling of things to come.
Plenty of shade early on.
The trail hugged the mountainside providing a sweeping view to the south. AZ87 cuts through the trees.
After switchbacking down a large slope, the climbing began and led me to the junction with the Walnut trail.
More climbing ensued and sure enough I began to push the bike.
I took a nice 10 minute break in the shade as things were warming up. The climb was getting more and more steep, but the terrain was still good.

Right about the time I topped out on the mesa the trail surface went to complete shit. What images does your mind conjure up when I say 'Hardscrabble'?? If visuals of baseball, cantaloupe and watermelon sized loose rock appeared, you'd be correct. The grades were never steep, it was simply to much energy to attempt riding. So, for the next hour+ I HAB'd up, across and down enough rocks to build a cairn visible from space. The following pictures are all from a three mile stretch of trail.
My mind began flashing back to the Cottonwood/Bronco trails of Seven Springs Rec. Area!!
Not exactly fun to walk on either.
The shameful downhill HAB. (Much steeper than it looks)
This is what 1.2mph on a SPOT tracker looks like.
Vintage AZT
I was actually looking forward to reaching the powerline section. The elevation profile had the trail trending downhill there, but would I be able to ride it?
The trail was starting to show signs of life!!
What's this? Smooth, fast, non-fall-line powerline trail?? In AZ?? I'll take it.
A few miles later the AZT turned left at FR194. Time for an OnB to the Wilderness boundary.
A few miles of rippin' fast forest road.
About 50 miles north of the AZT's halfway point.
Thankfully, I came to the Wilderness boundary as the trail was deteriorating to earlier conditions.
I only need to complete about 15 of those 349 miles to Utah, most of them are on the North Kaibab trail inside the Grand Canyon. (To be completed over Labor Day weekend!)
I was now done with the AZT for the day and covering ground quickly on the smooth empty forest road. The earlier HAB messed up my timing for the day and when I reached Hardscrabble rd I had a fairly easy decision to make.
Strawberry, here I come.
My original plans called for a spin down Hardscrabble rd. to the Pine/Strawberry trail. Instead I took the forest rd. to the left leading to a short paved connection to Strawberry and the Bearfoot trail. This was the trail I really wanted to check out, I had heard good trail reports about it and I'd be riding the Pine/Strawberry trail in a few weeks for the Fire on the Rim race anyway.
Stumbled upon this: oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona. Cool.
It was now early afternoon and the temps were now firmly into the 90's. My detour paid off as I now went through the bustling community of Strawberry where I could make a pitstop to grab some cold drinks.
Relief was on the way.
Refueled, I was ready to tackle the Bearfoot trail. I found the pullout off AZ87 and followed a short bit of jeep rd. I was now under a powerline and of course this one went straight up a hillside! Just as I was about to begin my HAB slog up the incline, I noticed the Bearfoot trail peeling off to the right - sweet!!
Adios powerline.
The trail only needed two signs as there were no alternatives on the way up the canyon.
The Bearfoot trail is about 6 miles long in total. There are ups & downs, smooth and chunky bits, some open areas with expansive views and other sections surrounded by trees. It's a fine mix of terrain and would make a good out-n-back ride as well. I was a bit surprised in the amount of rockwork found on the trail for erosion control. The folks in the Pine community are really building high quality trails. There were rock shoulders constructed, rock armoring over suspected water channels, nice arcing switchbacks, some buffed out fast pieces of dirt and still plenty of bumps & small tech features to give the trail some character. Well done, Pine, well done.
Just high enough to overlook town.
Rippin' fast.
Soaking up the rim country views.
Fantastic bench cut trail.
More speed please.
Near the end was this stream crossing. Fresh flagging indicates a future bridge is in the works.
Fern forest.
The Bearfoot trail ends at the junction with Pine Canyon. I was running a bit low on time so I didn't stay on Pine Canyon back to the Pine TH, instead I took the more direct route down through the Boy Scout camp and through the neighborhood to AZ87. A short stint of pavement brought me back to the Pine TH.
Pine Canyon trail at the end of Bearfoot.
Mileage show is via the Pine Canyon trail.
Signage near the Boy Scout camp.
I'm glad I finally did this loop as I had it planned out for the better part of a year. Next time I'd like to take the AZT out to Oak Spring, hang a right onto the Walnut trail and connect through via the Pine/Strawberry trail. From there, jump on the Bearfoot trail down to Pine Canyon - staying on that trail back to the Pine TH. That's almost all singletrack and little HAB as the Pine trailbuilders continue to rework trouble spots on the area trails.

With this ride in the books my completed AZT miles are up to 640 miles!! (591.8 via bike) I'm hoping to complete the entire trail over the next couple of years.