February 29, 2016

Queen's Ransom v3.0

I was leaning heavily on skipping the Queen's Ransom bikepack this year, mostly due to lack of time off. I met Ryan when I gave an Arizona Trail talk at REI a few months ago and he asked if I was going to do that ride again this year. My work switched me over to a 4x10 schedule freeing up my Fridays back in January, so I only needed one more day off work to make the ride happen. I examined my time off situation for the remainder of 2016 and guess what? I had one day to play with. Let's do this.

Ryan and I worked out our schedules and planned on the last weekend of Feb for the ride. I posted the ride on the forum and Facebook land and immediately received a bunch of interest but not many commits. The first two years of this ride I've had two other people join me for the fun. This year the number swelled to over 10 as launch day approached!! Whoa! That's a ton of bikepacking fools.

As the day grew closer I knew I had to modify my camping choices due to the size of the group. The Vortex in Gold Canyon is great, but can only hold 3-4 riders comfortably. I recalled a photo I took when we found out about Don's Camp in Gold Canyon a few years ago. I located the pic and called the number to find out more. As luck would have it, the camp was available for our group in exchange for a donation to the Don's of Arizona club. $5 each was a great deal! The second night along the AZT didn't present as big an issue. I scoped out a larger spot during the AES ride back in November. Night 3 would remain the same as the previous year.
10 strong to start. (L->R: Ben, George, Shannon, Ryan, Jason, Me, Justin, Sean, Vance & Mike)

Day 1: Long miles on good trail

With such a large group this year I knew we'd end up splitting at some point. The route's first 20 miles or so are on flat bikepaths, canals & pavement. My long commute home the week prior had me adjusting the course on-the-fly to add a few more canal miles over pavement...to the surprise of the few catching up!
New subdivision going in since last year's ride. Photo by Shannon.
20 miles or so of flat stuff to get things warmed up. Photo by Sean.
First hurdle of the day - don't fall in the canal!!
Howdy Jason!!
We made a pitstop at Desert Trails Park, making a lap on the XC trail before finally hitting our first real singletrack of the day on the TRW trail.

More fast singletrack was found along Power rd before getting a taste of the Hawes trails.
Jason & Sean being good Samaritans by helping a fellow rider with a dropped chain. 
We were now almost 30 miles into our day and still rolling as one group for the most part. Now that we were mostly on singletrack the rest of the day I mentioned to the fast guys to ride at their pace and to not wait up. That's part of this ride, navigation. We all had the track and I was done making adjustments...at least until after our dinner stop. The group began to stretch out on the neighborhood climb through Las Sendas up to the Hawes trail. Now the real fun was about to begin.
Top of the Hawes trail, starting a few miles of gradual twisting downhill.
Gila Monster!! Such a treat to see these guys while riding.
We turned onto Secret trail, rounded a corner and found Ryan messing with his rear wheel and severe chain suck. He smacked a rock pretty dang hard coming down Disneyland and bent the derailleur hanger. A few minutes of anxious tugging, we freed the chain, then George man-handled the hanger just enough to alleviate the issue. The ride goes on!!
Such a great view of Red Mountain while descending towards Wild Horse trail.
George cranking away.
Most of the Hawes system was covered in wildflowers.
Our route crossed over the pavement onto the new Maricopa trail connector to Pass Mtn. Here's where I changed things up from the prior versions. I opted to take the route on the smoother west side so we could have a water stop on route and not get beat up on the chunky east side descent. Plus, I was hoping this change would help speed up the day's progress as we zoomed around on fast trail.
Cold water at the Pass Mtn. trailhead.
Pass Mtn with its signature band of rock.
Phoenix thataway!!
Cruising on Blevins trail. Superstition Mtns still far off.
Vague jeep connector on a county island.
A few miles of pavement get us over to the Goldfield Mtns.
The Goldfields are a seldom ridden mix of jeep road and primitive singletrack. I managed to find a really nice route through, showcasing some of the quintessential views the area has to offer.
So rad.
Of course there's a short bit of HAB.
Shannon warned George not to do what she did, he didn't listen.
Mike riding on a nice piece of trail.
What a great day!! Photo by Shannon.
Still plenty of daylight!! Photo by Shannon's camera.
It wasn't quite 3pm when we started on the Jacob Crosscut trail. Last year it was already dark!! I warned everyone how the trail becomes more & more technical as we go along. However, I can never really convey the poor nature of the final mile descent, it's just something you have to experience!!
Mike getting into the meat of the technical riding.
Sometimes you simply must stop and soak it all in.
Nice place for a Voodoo pose.
Shannon's pink dot gives a bit of the sense of scale here.
There's a trail in there.
By now I had separated from the group. I popped out on the pavement and was ready for some chow, so I made a beeline for De La Cruz Mexican Grille. Since I was by myself I opted to check out a powerline connector between Silly Mtn & US60. It worked, nothing special but it was outside the park boundary which was good if riding by at night since the park is closed.
Appropriately named park. Photo by Shannon.
At the restaurant, Sean had already split for camp and a few others were getting ready to head out. I settled in and ordered food. The others trickled in with looks of WTF regarding the last bit of trail?!? Hehe. Can't have all the miles be butter smooth. At least that section was only 1 mile and sloping downhill.

Shannon rolled in a few minutes later and wasn't her chipper self, something was wrong. She thought her ride may be over after busting a spoke. Jason offered to bring a wheel to Kelvin the next day, but that was still over 50 tough miles away. Then the call went out to Jerry. He offered up a wheel and to drive it up to camp 1 early the next morning...from Tucson!! He was also planning on joining our ride near Kelvin. Such a great guy.

After dinner we did a quick re-supply at Basha's then made our way through the neighborhood roads of Gold Canyon. The sun went down as we reached dirt for the final 7-8 miles. Again, I decided to call an audible on the route to camp. I ended up cutting out some fun parts of K-Trail in favor of a more direct line to camp. In the end, I think it was much appreciated by all and still really fun. We ended the first day with just over 80 miles under our tires.

We met up with Sandra, the camp host at Don's Camp for the night. She was eager to share a wealth of knowledge about the local history of the area with us. It was too bad we couldn't beat sunset upon our arrival, but I knew we'd be treated to a stellar view in the morning.

Day 2: Just Keep Climbing

Mike was cutting down a forest of trees in his sleep most of the night, but I managed a few solid hours of rest. The moon was bright in the middle of the night practically illuminating the towering cliffs all around us. Spectacular.
We slept under cover, but could've easily picked an open area.
Good sized amphitheater on site too. 
There may have to be a weekend retreat planned out here to ride the Gold Canyon trails.
The question of the morning was: 'How far until Queen Valley?' That was our last re-supply option for two days. Luckily it wasn't too far and we were there around 8:30am.

Jerry arrived as promised and in true pitstop fashion had Shannon's wheel swapped out in no time. Can't thank you enough Jerry!! More to come on this guy later.
Ben & Shannon surviving a raging water crossing.
Pedaling east, we put the Superstitions behind us.
An old-timer ogling our mode of transportation.
The Fitz Stop in Queen Valley is vital for water as the Gila River is about 30 miles away. We could always go off-route near Picketpost into Superior, but really didn't want to do that.

We ate, stocked up and filled water reservoirs while the locals chatted nearby sucking down cigarettes.

A short bit of pavement and we were back on dirt. Welcome to gunsight alley or Hewitt Station rd on a pleasant Saturday morning. #pewpew. Guns blazin' everywhere out there, but from what I saw everyone was shooting responsibly, to each their own.

The group had split up by the time I reached the AZT. Everyone knew the trail brought with it a bunch of climbing and some tough riding. We were camping about 18 miles south of Picketpost trailhead. Take your time, just keep moving and let's get everyone to camp before dark.
Closing in on Picketpost Mtn.
A welcomed sight. Igor's truck with a well stocked cooler of ice cold beer!!
Another one of our friends, Igor, couldn't make the ride, but was planning a day ride out at Picketpost. He posted a picture of his truck online for us and told us to help ourselves to any refreshments. It was getting warm out and that beer really hit the spot. Thanks man!!

As George and I were getting ready to head back out, Ben & Shannon appeared. Shannon was looking a little beat down, I'm not used to seeing her like that. She wasn't sure she could keep going and told me she'd send a text if she bailed out. I mentioned to take a break, move slow, and keep it rolling. We still had over 6 hours of daylight to ride those 18 miles.

Time to point my bike south on the AZT.
South side of Picketpost Mtn.
Weaver's Needle and the Superstitions now seem very far away.
Lunch break in the shade.
Fantastic trail leading into the Telegraph Canyon rd crossing.
Surprise water cache at Telegraph rd.
Clear views to the east at the 10 mile overlook.
Whoa! It's a trail convention. Igor & his buddies, two segment hikers, Mike & another surprise water cache box.
What follows next is almost too hard to believe. Martinez Canyon is arguably one of the most stunning locations you can ride a mountain bike on singletrack. Similar in regards to the Grand Canyon, pictures simply don't do this place justice. One must experience it firsthand. As an added bonus, we'd be camping down in the lower reaches of the canyon.
Follow the squiggly line along the left canyon wall.
Brittlebush & Globemallows make a nice combo.
The trail seems more precipitous from afar.
A wave of Earth abruptly getting sheared off.
This was our camping spot last year, great location, just too small for our larger group.
I had good service here, so I checked my phone for any message from Shannon. Nothing. So, I assumed she decided to keep riding. No news is good news.
Not a bad locale for some Voodoo posing.
The upper saddle, marking the beginning of a 2000' drop to the Gila River over 7 miles.
The entire route was marked well with color.
Yet another spot primed for a break.
Approaching Dale's Butte, camp 2 is not far off.
I think this worked out just fine.
George rolling into camp in the glowing light, followed closely by Shannon & Ben!!
Campfire, bikes & friends.
Jeff & Nancy were the first to the camping area while out on their own overnight excursion. It was really cool we were able to match up our timing for the evening. Jason's wife, Jennifer, had also joined in on the fun late on Day 1 for her first ever bikepacking ride!! They arrived at camp just after sunset and would finish their ride, as planned, the next day in Kelvin.

On a personal note, there was a bit of history made. This was the first time on this route I arrived at a camping destination in daylight!! No such luck the first two years. It was really nice to kick back, relax, socialize with a great group of people and watch the stars come out.

Sometime that evening I received a text from Arturo. He was down in Oracle at the Circle K and wanted to know if we needed anything. Say wha? But of course. He knows what riders crave on a big ride, so I left it up to him and I jokingly asked for ice.

A bit later he replied back with the whereabouts of our goodie cache along with 20lbs of ice!! Did he really do that? We won't arrive in Kelvin until almost lunchtime the following day. If anything it will be a couple bags of water we won't have to filter!!

Day 3: Trail Magic in the Gila

The group got stirring fairly early, but there wasn't much of a need to rush as this was going to be a shorter day and not quite as tough as Day 2.
Something magical about waking up out here.
We bid farewell to Jeff & Nancy as they were heading back up the canyon to finish off their ride. We were pointing downhill for another 2 1/2 miles to grab some water from the Gila River.
The Gila was running fairly swift at 200 CFS, but filtered nice and cold per usual. We found out after the fact that the group camping across the river was none other than the AZT Director, Matt Nelson, and his family. 
Back on the trail, our first view of the river.
Vance making a tough switchback look easy.
The trail points north briefly towards distant views into White Canyon Wilderness.
Saguaro Alley.
Singletrack through the grass in the desert is a rare treat.
Find Shannon and you'll get a sense of scale out here.
While the AZT parallels the Gila River closely, it isn't seen too often.
Wildflowers were out in force all along the river corridor.
Fun trail down by the river. Photo by Shannon.
The sight of the train trestle means one thing to those riding towards Kelvin, a final grunt climb! aka: Dale's Demoralizer!!
Jason doing some grunt work.
Even pushing her bike, Jennifer is all smiles!! Well done!!
Jerry met us at the top of the Demoralizer.
By now it was almost 11am and we were all curious to see what was left in Arturo's goodie cache. It was only a few more downhill miles away, but first some flower sniffing had to be done.
Getting sleepy....
The final descent into Kelvin was the wildflower sweetspot.
Arturo's cache, hidden behind the boulder.
We located the cache and to our surprise & amazement the ice was still there!! Hardly melted at all and it was plenty warm outside by now. We sifted through the bag splitting up the goods and packing the remainder for the rest of the gang. I stuffed my water bladder with ice then jammed the tallboy Bud inside to cool it down for later. Thanks again Arturo, what a cool thing to do. One of these years you'll have to actually do the ride!!
I'm not much of a Bud fan, but it sure was welcome on this day! Photo by Shannon.
We unloaded some trash in nearby dumpsters then began the uphill push to the Kelvin trailhead. Some opted for the road climb, others stuck to the AZT. Either way, it's work. Of course the effort isn't over at the Kelvin TH, that just meant we were done with our AZT tour, next up was the soulsucking climb up the Florence-Kelvin Hwy. However, this time it was a bit different. We had a carrot near the top of the climb: Jerry's wife, Cathy, was waiting for us at their car with a cooler full of ice & margaritas!! Oh, and donuts!! Let's GO!!
Ryan along the golden AZT. Photo by Sean.
Shannon making her way up the trail in front of the massive Ray Mine.
One of the mental checkpoints along the F-K climb, a little over 1/2 way up.
Pinal Peak from the top of the F-K climb.
We could see these towers for days, now we finally rode around them.
Vance, Justin & Ryan getting first cracks at the SAG wagon. Photo by Sean.
The margarita mix did not go to waste as we finished it off at camp 3. Thanks Jerry!!
Spirits lifted once again, both literally & figuratively, all that was left for day 3 was a fast fun mostly downhill romp to Area 52 and camp 3.
Area 52 straight ahead. Photo by Sean
Gila River Canyons from the south side of the river. The spire from camp 2 can be seen near the top of the large shadow on the left.
Area 52 on the left, South Butte on the right.
Justin flyin' down the dirt roads, he was gone each time I snapped a pic!!
A few bits of sand, but nothing that wasn't rideable...for now.
We found the fellas camped in a shady wash right next to Area 52. Perfect.
George found his own island in the sand.
Day 3 was a bit of work, had some welcomed treats and short mileage allowing all of us to reach camp by 4pm. It was nice to relax in the shade as the sun went down on another great day of riding. Most of us turned in early as the stars began to pop out.

Day 4: Area 52 and Altered Plans

Everyone was curious as to how we were going to get up on the giant rock that is Area 52. It's an enormous anomaly poking out of the desert floor and rarely ridden. There are no trails here, just a playground of freeride lines...and hike-a-bike.

Justin was the first one to get his bike up on the rock and we all followed his lead as best we could.
Justin blazin' the way.
Vance assuming the position.
A Sean sighting!!
A chilly start at 38ยบ, but the layers came off quick. Photo by Sean.
North Butte looking over South Butte's shoulder.
Vance & Ryan finding a rideable route.
Sneaky tough downhill scramble.
Our immediate goal was the wash to the right of Sean. Photo by Shannon.
I took a break to add sealant to my squishy front tire, then play catch up.
Ben nearing the top of the sketchy HAB. It's about right here where I lost my footing and fell back on a chollaball. Ouch!! Think 'City Slickers' when I pulled out the cactus needles!! Photo by Sean.
Sean weighing his options.
I spy...a penstemon!! Photo by Sean.
Shannon & Jerry working through the maze.
Somewhere around here is where I crashed last year, fracturing my wrist. No issues on this day. Photo by Shannon.
Sean cruising through the other worldly landscape.
I blend in well with South Butte. Photo by Shannon.
Rocks on top of rock.
One last grunt on the Area 52 bypass jeep road. Photo by Sean.
Half of the group was out in front well on their way towards Florence and resupply. As soon as we crested the saddle on the bypass route the tough riding was done. The roads angled downward for a bit, albeit sandy, but we were going in the favorable direction! Our route would take us down next to the Gila River once more, but this time we couldn't hear or see it as it was masked behind a berm of thick vegetation.
It's always a treat to cruise under a desert canopy.
Not too much of this.
More of this, now along side the diverted Gila River.
No wading required!
A few of us arrived at McD's eager to spend our money. Photo by Sean.
We departed Florence with about 40 miles to go on mostly flat riding on dirt frontage roads, canals & open desert dirt roads. Vance & Ryan caught up to us along a stretch of canal a few miles down the road.
'F' for Florence on Poston Butte.
Ryan spinning by.
Wide open dirt roads just off the main drag.
Vance and his convenience store options on the cockpit.
Much to my surprise as we were about to rejoin the Hunt Hwy a tribal officer issued a few in our group citations for being on tribal land. The dirt road we were on had no obvious signage or gate indicating we shouldn't be there. It was really unfortunate and a crappy way to cap a great 4 days of riding.

Our group had become split again because of this and I had backtracked about 11 miles to warn any others to take an alternate route, but everyone was gone. I did find a suitable workaround, which of course in hindsight should have been used and I would have had I known we were not welcome on that other dirt road.
Nice wide dirt shoulder along this section of Hunt Hwy.
I was still perplexed by the happenings earlier when I encountered another routing snafu. This time on State Trust Land. It now appears the parcel of STL west of the Hunt Hwy is officailly closed. New signage had been installed along with a fresh shiny string of barbed wire where there hadn't been any last year.

I really wanted to connect over to San Tan Regional Park to get some singletrack riding into the mix, so I consulted the Google & Trailforks app to see if I could find a route through the local neighborhoods. I was at an adjacent neighborhood from where I needed to be, but none of the roads connected. I did see a drainage culvert separating the homes to the west, this could be the way through! I located a common area between two homes and crossed the culvert within a block of the original route as it had exited the State Trust Land - now completely fenced off with barbed wire.

It was now a matter of linking a few roads together over to Rock Peak Wash TH.
One of the connector roads to San Tan turned to dirt which was nice.
From the trailhead it appears to be good trail...
That is quickly dashed by sand. Bike tracks? I figured they were from our group.
The Shaka Cactus.
One last descent on Dynamite trail bringing us back to the city.
The final 7 miles are on pavement and bikepath for a fast finish. I rolled up to a water fountain at Desert Mountain Park to find Ben refilling for the home stretch.
In the end it was an awesome time out with great friends. Everyone who started or joined in en route rode what they intended to. No mechanicals other than Shannon's wheel & my flat. There were 9 people who completed the full route & 5 others who either rode a few days with us or met us to camp out. That's really cool. Hope to see you out there next year!

Here's the route map & elevation profile, cleaned up without the Day4 snafus.
CW direction. 216 miles & ~14k elevation gain.
More photos from the ride:

Going forward, all Queen's Ransom finishers will receive one of these fine patches!! *All past year's finishers have theirs in hand!!

Stickers are available at the Storefront.
Route profile can purchased as a poster, stickers or mug via Redbubble.
Screensavers of the route profile may be found via Payhip.