January 30, 2016


That's a lot of acronyms to a blog title, no? AES APC ITT = Arizona Endurance Series - Antelope Peak Challenge Individual Time Trial for those scoring at home. To be fair, I wasn't racing the course or riding solo, Shannon & Eszter let me tag along with them for a rerun of the official event a week earlier. All three of us had reasons for missing out: bee sting, sickness & dog sitting. However, we all wanted to do the route. I did have one small goal on the day: complete the full route before sunset!! In my previous two rides on the APC I wasn't really close.
The famous arch that greets riders prior to the 24 hour in the Old Pueblo race.
Our staging area near the arch. Mt. Lemmon towers nearby.
Junebug singletrack, part of the 24HitOP course.
The three of us met up just before 8a for a cool warmup on Willow Springs rd & the paved AZ77 into Oracle. I'm sure we gathered a few odd looks from the 24hr crowd as we pedaled away from the course. This was one of the last weekends for riders to pre-ride the route.
Shannon & EZ on Willow Springs rd.
The paved spin up the seemingly infinite horizon climb on AZ77 is a bit of a drag. At least it goes by relatively quickly when chattering about things like 'Why are so many people going to Biosphere2 this morning?' Where's Biosphere1? (hehe). Sixteen miles into our day we arrived at one of the iconic trailhead views along the entire length of the Arizona Trail: Tiger Mine TH.
3 bikes, 1 rad trail.
As soon as we dropped onto the trail I began having flashbacks to the Gila100 from last January. What a strange series of events that ride turned out to be. We made fairly quick work of the five drainages we had to traverse. Chatted with a father & son out segment hiking the AZT on an overnighter. So cool to see more folks out enjoying this great trail.
Antelope Peak way off in the distance. We'll ride around that later.
One of the many ups & downs.
Putting some distance on Mt. Lemmon. This gate marks the end of the drainages.
It was time to shed my jacket as things began to warm up. We all commented how much better the trail seemed to ride so far. A bit less rubble to surf on perhaps? I was surprised how easy the initial climbs were, sure I walked a bit, but nothing compared to prior rides.

We merged onto the gasline bypass section and I was curious to note the visibility of the trail in daylight. Wow, what a difference. I found it hard to believe I missed so many turns during the Gila100 fiasco, but I guess that's what happens when you don't have a GPS and your lights are on low!!
Strange to see Saguaros singled out like this.
It was that kind of day. Cheese!!
Shannon was always easy to find, EZ camouflaged well.
We zipped across a small dirt road following some tire tracks and the trail dead-ended into a tangle of branches & thorns. We took this opportunity for a quick snack and for me to shed another layer. I'm fairly certain I was being mocked for possibly overdressing when EZ asked if I had a prom dress in my pack!

It was about then when we noticed there were 4 other riders down the dirt road fixing a flat. Not the type of trail you expect to see others roaming about. They too missed the turn and soon the seven of us rolled north.
Traffic jam on the AZT!!
We all joined up at the gate leading into the Bloodsucker wash descent. They were on an out-n-back day ride. A couple of them turned around as we pointed our bikes downhill. Two fellas joined us for a bit of the downhill before heading back towards Tiger Mine.
Shannon riding off the Biosphere.
Some fun contouring lines here.
This downhill is guaranteed to put a grin on your face.
Took this one while riding, not bad.
Is Antelope Peak getting ANY closer?
The final turns down into Bloodsucker Wash.
This downhill is one of those that makes your arms grow tired and your hands cramp from braking. A couple of punchy climbs are thrown in for good measure, but it's mostly down for about 6 miles.

We found our way across Bloodsucker Wash and began the jeep road climb out of the basin. A snack stop was agreed on, but the trail boss declared 'no 45 minute Schilling breaks!!' But, those are so fun!! I think we kept it around 10-15 minutes, then motored on up the road.

The jeep road section climbs fairly easily and we reached the next landmark, Beehive Well, quickly.
The girls cruising by a lone water source at Beehive Well.
The sandy wash after the well was rideable, but I really wasn't looking forward to the next bit of trail. It's really steep, loose and off camber in bits. To my surprise the crappy section was really short. We kept gaining elevation and I was riding much more than I previously had. EZ was powering up everything out there, so impressive.
Postcard Saguaro.
There were a few bits of HAB scattered about, but again the trail was riding much better than I remembered.
Antelope Peak is finally within our grasp.
As the trail wraps around Antelope Peak it goes through a large cholla forest famously known for covering the trail in prickly chollaballs, yet, on this day the trail was clear of cacti!!

Our leisurely pace meant we'd have to skip a summit trek on the peak since we all didn't have lights. That was ok since the wind had picked up. We knew we had a stout headwind waiting for us at Freeman rd.
Freeman rd TH with a new shade structure.
We grabbed a splash of water from the cache and turned west into the wind. It wasn't horrible, but you had to pedal a bit on the downhills to keep your momentum up.

A few miles later we turned back onto Willow Springs rd giving us a reprieve from the wind. The girls weren't too excited about riding the final section of the route through the Painter Boy trail. It's a notoriously vague route to begin with often leading to multiple scratches/cuts from catclaw. So, when we reached the split in the route I was on my own. Post-ride meal plans were hatched and they took off down the road as my route finding was getting underway.

I've been through this area a few times so I knew what to look for. Follow the 2-track into the wash, turn hard left and follow the wash until it reaches a barbed wire fence. Lift you bike over the fence, then find the missing strand of barbed wire to crawl through and hike back to your bike. Easy!
The beginning of the 'vague' area.
 This is where having a GPS track comes in really handy. Trust the track. I did and then stumbled onto some nice singletrack parting the tangled mess of branches. It was short lived, but did cover some ground. A few HAB sections through washes and I popped onto the 2-track marking the end of the vague area. To my surprise, not one scratch!! The area was completely free of catclaw. Whatever. I'll take it.

I kept my eyes peeled for the singletrack split and found it after initially overshooting it a bit. From here it's all singletrack, the primitive adventurous type, all the way to where it meets the 24hr course.
Not everything makes it out of Painter Boy.
Love this type of trail.
A second barbed wire fence, this one requires a crawl under.
Golden Hour setting in.
I ran into Igor, who rode the APC the previous week, who was out to explore the other trails off of Painter Boy. We were both racing daylight and kept our chat short.

I'm always surprised at how long Painter Boy is, the miles kept ticking by and I was getting a little anxious to reach the 24hour course. I knew when I got there, it would be a quick finish on a dirt superhighway.

I finally reached the junction and made the last short climb up to a saddle where all the racers enjoy a nice fast downhill into the exchange tent on race day. I arrived at the famed rock drop only to find a small 24hour town had already sprung up!! Plenty of people out pre-riding the course and making a weekend of it. It's a super fun event, one I'll probably do again, but with my bikepacking gear.
Top of the rock drop.
In a couple of weeks this tree will become The Whiskey Tree.
Last bit of singletrack on His & Her trail, note the sun is still shining!
I rolled back into the staging area where Shannan & EZ were chilling. Ride goal accomplished, done right before sunset...by a minute or two!! We loaded up and found a great BBQ joint in Catalina, duly noted for next time.

As we departed Bubb's BBQ my left hamstring decided it would be a good time to turn itself into a knot. Damn, that was painful. I stood there helpless by the dumpster for almost 10 minutes waiting for it to release. Luckily, I had no further trouble with it on the drive home.

I definitely prefer this route in the CCW direction with the start/finish at the Willow Springs arch. It's a great ride on some remote AZT that not too many people get to experience. Check it out if you get the chance.

January 29, 2016

AZT #18: Gauging the Sufferfest

Why would anyone ride UP Montana Mtn on the Arizona Trail? Good question, but I have an answer. In spite of the perceived hike-a-bike, HAB, that lie ahead on those upper 2 1/2 miles, I am determined to ride as much of the bike legal AZT that is feasible during this year's AZTR750. I figure if I'm going to do it in April, I might as well see how brutal it's going to be.

I opted to sleep in a bit on Friday and didn't start pedaling north out of Picketpost TH until 10:30a. There were plenty of other trail users milling about, a large group of equestrians were heading south along with a few hikers. I didn't expect to see much, if any, trail users going north.

Of course barely a half mile into the ride I came up on another group of equestrians riding northbound. I crossed under US60 and then Queen Creek making my way to Hewitt Station rd where the rest of the AZTR750 riders will turn left. More than likely my tires will turn right and head to Superior for a burrito before heading up the trail.
The 3 B's of the AZT: Bones, Barbed Wire & Bikes.
As I approached Hewitt Station rd, I noticed a fresh set of tire tracks in the dirt. How old were they? Couldn't have been more than a day old since they weren't trampled by hoof prints. The more I looked at them the more I became convinced the rider wasn't too far ahead.

The trail began a gentle ascent after crossing some railroad tracks and the rubble began to appear. Initially it wasn't a show stopper, but soon the pitch increased along with the number of baseball sized rocks. Time for a bit of HAB.
Beautiful morning to be out of the trail.
A few of these greeted me early on, only a couple minutes here & there.
I think I was cresting the second ridgeline when I noticed some hikers up ahead...and someone pushing their bike! I found the owner of those tire tracks. Five minutes later I caught up to him, out for a day ride. I motored on as the trail was getting pretty good, even mixed in some fun downhill.
Montana Mtn doesn't tower above anything, I think it's the rounded peak on the far left horizon.
Plenty of green in Whitford Canyon.
As soon as I dropped into Whitford Canyon I saw something I had never seen there before: flowing water!! It was a welcome change to the typically bone dry canyon. The water mostly stayed above ground as it made its way towards Queen Creek.

A large group of day hikers were just ahead finishing off their trek as I rode by. I reached the first crossing of FR650 without too much trouble. So far the ride was going well. I wasn't so sure how the next segment would ride as I recall most of it being downhill gong southbound. I'm glad my memory wasn't correct, this section was a blast to ride. Desert wildflowers even made an appearance!!
A splash of gold already on the hillside at this elevation?!? It's going to be a fantastic wildflower year.
Well contoured trail leading towards the larger mountains.
Your typical Arizona jeep road.
A short downhill led me to the second crossing of FR650 at the Reavis Canyon TH. There were only a couple of miles left before the big push up Montana Mtn.
Reavis Canyon TH.
Proof! Water!!
Spotted some trail flagging for a future re-route near a severely washed out section of trail.
There were two portions of the trail that were completely obliterated from last season's monsoon. At least it was only the portions that dipped into the wash, but it was a little difficult to see where the trail picked up again. That's one reason I always ride with a GPS with a loaded track when possible. You simply never know what type of conditions you may encounter on these remote outings.

The GPS now read 13.3 miles, time to get my HAB on. The lower flanks of Montana Mtn are narrow, steep & loose, but not to bad to walk. The elevation gain comes rapidly as you peer back down the canyon.
Typical photo, doesn't really convey the steepness.
Starting to rise out of Reavis Canyon.
Higher up, the trail surface has less rubble to navigate.
The Voodoo was getting tired, so we took a break.
Freshly manicured switchbacks all the way up. Should be real nice to ride down these.
There it is!! The gate just below the saddle signifying the end of the climb.
I love the views up here, so much to take in.
As I neared the top I could hear OHV's up on the ridgeline, it almost sounded like they would be coming down the trail!! I spotted them traversing eastward on FR650 as it wraps around the north side of Montana Mtn.

The GPS was now showing 15.8 miles, 1 1/2 hours in, I crested the saddle. Of the 2 1/2 miles of climbing I think I rode about 0.4 miles. It's a stout climb for sure, but I'd just as soon get in over with in one push in April. Climbing up on the forest roads isn't exactly a cake walk and even though the AZT trends downhill going south, it's still makes you work. Instead I'll enjoy 16 downhill miles on FR172.

On the north side of the saddle were patches of snow even though it was 60ยบ outside. This vantage point provides you with views of Pinal Peak, Mt. Lemmon, Picketpost Mtn, Superstition Mtns and some of Four Peaks. It's quite incredible.
I don't often find snow so close to home.
Part of the Four Peaks behind FR650.
The downhill began on FR650 as it continues north as the AZT to Roger's Trough TH. FR172 splits off about a half mile from Roger's Trough, but I opted to take the detour to the trailhead for a snack. There was plenty of running water crossing the road along with slushy sections!! Snowpack was melting fast, but sure made things interesting.
Popular trailhead for day hikers.
I may have a pic of my Voodoo next to every one of these along the trail.
End of the line for bikes.
The only concern I had riding down FR172 was whether or not my brakes would combust. The road isn't super steep, but speed comes easily and there are a handful of tight turns. I tried taking in the views all the way down, pausing a few times to snap some pics.
The ruggedness of the Superstition Mtns. guards its famed gold stash.
Layers & layers of foothills.
Thick stand of Saguaros.
Such an amazing place to ride.
Towering cliffs and cacti around every corner.
Exiting the canyon.
The entire ride down I only saw one vehicle, a truck that I caught and passed. I could see a wall of dust waiting for me as I approached Hewitt Station rd. The OHV crew was tearing it up, but they were headed the other direction and the dust settled quickly.

It was now late afternoon as Picketpost came back into sight. A few miles of graded dirt led me back to the first couple of AZT miles from the morning. Sure was a fine way to wind down the ride.
Finish line in sight.
It took me about 6 hours to complete the portion I'll ride in April. How long will it take then? Who knows, but hopefully not too much longer. 7 hours? 8?? We'll see.