November 21, 2015

AES: Picketpost Punisher - A Course

The title says it all. Really. This event has now run through three iterations and anyone who has ridden one of the course options can attest, it is indeed a Punisher. For the A course nutjobs, yours truly included, it's also referred to as the Pulverizer.

For 2015 we decided to mix things up a bit, giving riders three more distinct looping options instead of simply stacking another loop onto each route. I think this worked out well for all. Especially the A course riders. While this route was no walk in the park, I've ridden all of it many times and knew it had a higher return per pedal stroke over the prior year's routing. That one simply beat you up.

With that said, there was a flurry of late entries for the 74 mile lollipop loop mostly along the Arizona Trail. By the time we rolled onto the trail at 5am from Picketpost TH, there were 5. Myself, Bob, Artec, Chase and Jason.

It was cool, but pleasant outside. A little breezy, but nothing for us to be concerned about. Bob broke out first and didn't take long to disappear from view. The rest of us stayed fairly close, even leapfrogging a couple times over the first 5 miles.
Look closely, it's not all black. First hint of daybreak about 1 hour into the ride.
I stopped for a quick early morning snack at the 5.5 mile overlook. I could see Artec & Chase's lights dancing along the canyon's walls about a 1/2 mile ahead. Cool. Jason soon caught up and I resumed pedaling not far behind him.

I saw some lights cross over Telegraph Canyon rd. and as I kept my southward trek going the lights soon were extinguished.
Dawn on the climb up to the 10 mile overlook. Looking north back towards Picketpost Mtn.
Of course the dreaded catclaw made an appearance and got me good on the thumb. I hate that stuff.
I made my way down and up to the gate marking the entrance to Martinez Canyon. This is such a magical place to ride a bike, but to experience it at daybreak is really something every rider should do at least once. Phenomenal.
Looking northbound from the Martinez Canyon gate.
Along the shadowy walls of the canyon.
I love how the trail gets up close to a few of the giant rock spires.
About to feel the warm glow on my skin for the first time today.
I happened to catch a glimpse of Jason not too far ahead of me as I passed the first rock spire. I figured the others weren't too far off.

My goal going in was of course to finish the ride, preferably in a more respectable time than last year's 1:24am finish!! To do that, I set some time goals for the day to help keep me on track. First, reach the river in under 4 hours. I made it in 3:45.
The Gila Saddle, marking the beginning of a 7 mile descent over 2000' to the Gila River. I'd be climbing back up this at the end.
Has to be one of the more iconic trailside views along the AZT.
Thankfully, the Gila was only ankle deep. Easy crossing.
As I rolled up to the banks of the river, Artec & Chase were packing up getting ready to begin the climb up the south side. They said Jason didn't stop and was only a few minutes ahead. I was feeling pretty good and this lifted my spirits even more. 21 miles in and I wasn't completely dropped off the back!! Although this would be the last time I'd see anyone the rest of the day.

I took a nice 20 minute food break, changed out to cooler riding clothes and left the Gila just after 9am.

Both sides of the river have these cool 4x4 roads hidden under a canopy of mesquite trees. It's a rare sight out in the desert, but it makes for a cool picture. I got my phone out, but wanted to get a little farther down the road, which had large puddles of water in the tire treads. As soon as I put my front tire on the high center of the road it hit slippery mud and I was going down!! I sacrificed my left foot to the mud, but stayed upright. Close call, and now I had mud all over my tires & shoes.
At least the picture came out!
I ended up walking through most of this as it was really tough to keep a straight line.

There were a bunch of people camping down near the Cochran townsite as I began to climb away from the river. On the very first climb something caught my eye in the road, a wallet. More than likely some OHV rider had it bounce out during an excursion. I picked it up so I could mail it back to the guy, that's got to be one of the crappiest things to lose.
Coke ovens perched in front of North Butte.
A few grunt climbs along the way, but mostly good riding around Grayback Mtn.
A look back at the Gila River Canyons, the spire can be seen just left of center.
To the west, Area52 & South Butte
I wasn't sure how long it was going to take me to reach the Florence-Kelvin Hwy, but I was hoping for under 2 hours. I made it in 1 1/2. This was the only time of the ride when the wind was a factor. It was half headwind, half crosswind, but didn't really slow me down. Just blew me off a couple lines every once in a while. It was right around 10:30 when I began the screaming 4+ mile descent towards Kelvin. I was feeling good.
I think I topped out at 38 mph on this downhill.
New shade structure at the Kelvin TH. Only 5 gallons of water in the cache, so I skipped it and went for the hose at the Wilson Trailer Court in Kelvin. Always a reliable stop with a bench under some shade.
I made my second time check by getting to Kelvin before noon, I arrived at 11:20. I topped off water, had another snack and departed about 15 minutes later.

The next 16 miles of trail always seem to get people. It doesn't matter which direction, but this stretch of trail is sneaky tough. I've ridden it enough to know what to expect and I knew it was a bit more rider friendly going northbound, my direction. I wasn't expecting it to be easy, but I knew the climbs weren't as demanding going this direction. I had hoped I could get to the GIla climb by 2p.
Top of the first climb, the longest one too.
Each time I glanced down at my GPS I was surprised how much ground I was covering, but I didn't feel like I was riding fast. The time kept ticking equally as fast too. This segment is divided into three parts the way I see it, 8 miles of singletrack, 2 miles of jeep road, then 4 miles of singletrack to the climb. The final 6 are fairly easy miles too.

Yet, by 1:30p I was still on the first 8 mile section. My legs didn't feel bad, but I could tell they were getting heavy, beginning to lack power. Otherwise, I felt fine. I knew then my 2p goal wouldn't be met. I took a break at the start of the second singletrack section hoping to bring my legs back to life. That was fleeting at best. I kept plugging away as I grew more hungry. I made another goal to reach the singletrack at the top of the first jeep road climb of the Gila before eating. This seemed to spur me along the last couple of miles. I reached the base of the climb at 3p.
Fall colors beginning to show in the Gila River valley.
I stopped at the large new AZT sign and managed to get another burrito down. It was awfully dry and pasty, nothing a Mountain Dew couldn't help!! I took an extra long 45 minute break giving my legs one last chance at redemption. The entire time I sat there I knew the only way out was by me. Time to get moving.
Great map of passages 16 & 17, showcasing the entire AZT from Kelvin to Picketpost.
I had really hoped to be topped out of the climb and even through Martinez Canyon before sunset. That was now out of the question since it typically takes me about 2 hours to reach the Gila saddle when climbing out. It was 3:45p when I got rolling again.

Again, I tend to split this climb into manageable thirds. The lower 1/3 having some grunts up jeep roads, but mostly rideable singletrack. The second 1/3 mellows out a bit, offers some downhill relief and is generally on great terrain. The upper 1/3 resumes the HAB through some techy bits and switchbacks all the way to the saddle.
The second steep jeep road signals the end of the lower 1/3 as the spire is in perfect view.
Whatever it was, the burrito or Mountain Dew, it worked. My legs were showing signs of life and I was able to ride most of what I normally do on the climb. I kept chugging along counting down the miles to the saddle while racing the fading light.
Moon rise in the canyon.
Someone picked a perfect evening for a sightseeing flight.
I made it up to mile 6 before needing my helmet light and changing into warmer clothes. I walked a bunch of the final mile just because it felt good to walk, but I made the saddle at 6:20p
This fiery glow didn't last long.
Not too much different from my morning descent.
Almost as high as the top of the spire.
I made ok time through Martinez Canyon, but I always seem to be slow through here going northbound. It definitely has more climbing.

As soon as I reached the gate at the end I could see a campfire on the opposing valley wall. I'd have to clmb one final hill right near there. I was tying to guess who else may be out here? i took another short break at the gate before pushing off towards the orange glow on the hillside.

I was about 2/3 up the climb when one of the fellas asked how I was doing. Whooped was my answer. They asked if I needed anything: water, snacks, wine, etc. You know, the essentials. I turned them down, but took a few minutes to hang by the fire and see what they were up to.

It was a group of 6 bikepackers who had come up from the Gila earlier. We began talking about the routes in the area and where they were headed tomorrow. 'Oh, we'll probably take the bypass into Superior' they said. Telegraph Canyon, huh? You may want to skip that and stay on the trail, it's much better. They were surprised to hear that. They also planned to take the jeep road back to the river down my Ajax & Orphan Boy mines. I cautioned them on the ruggedness of that route too, but it is cool as long as you know what you're getting in to. I wished them luck and they informed me the last rider through was a couple hours ahead. Didn't matter to me, I just wanted to be done.

The final 10 miles actually went by fairly smooth. I kept a nice pace going and for the most part didn't feel too bad. I finally rolled back into the Picketpost TH at 9:39p where Evan & Jason W. were hanging out after their B course ride.
All done! Photo by Evan.
I was glad to see all 5 A course riders finished. Bob killed it finishing just before sunset. Chase was the first female A course finisher too, very cool!! Results for the day are listed here.

In the end I was happy with my ride. I would have preferred to not have dead legs for 3 hours, but that's how it goes sometimes. Overall, I really liked the route as a whole. I think this one is a keeper. Congrats to everyone who came out and finished any of the courses this year, well done!! See ya next year.

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