May 29, 2016

Black Canyon Trail...and Yachts

May was winding down and by Valley of the Sun standards, we got off easy. We were actually easing into summer mode for a change. I figured I could still get in a decent desert ride during the day, but was having a hard time deciding where to go. Tough problem to have, I know. Then George reminded me he was doing a shuttle ride on the Black Canyon Trail with his Casa Grande buddies. They had room for one more, so it was settled. BCT here I come.
Packed in like sardines.
I arrived early for a change at the Bumble Bee trailhead. We were going to ride down the trail to here from the Big Bug trailhead off SR69.

There was a fella already gearing up for a ride in the parking lot and as it turned out, it was my buddy, David, out for a Tour Divide training ride. Look for the DP dot here: Trackleaders - Tour Divide 2016 beginning June 10th. He was off to ride the dirt road up into the Bradshaw Mtns to the tiny outpost of Crown King. One of these days I'll make the spin up there.
A man ready for a grand adventure!!
A few more riders showed up, but they too were going off on their own trek. The first guy knew my name, but I didn't recognize him. Turns out it was Tom Vassago of Vassago Cycles!! We've been digital friends for a while and finally ran into each other. Kind of cool to have a bike company owner proudly admit to 'stalking' my rides!!

George and the others arrived, we packed his truck full of bikes and headed north. There would be 6 of us in our group including two Todd's, one Chris and one Karl.

I had only ridden the 7 1/2 mile section between SR69 & Antelope Creek once before, it wasn't anything to get too excited about. Until today. The trail was greatly improved, probably from more bike traffic and less cattle post-holing. That's what I remembered from my first time through.
George remembered to smile!! Todd #2 on his maiden BCT voyage.
Karl on an early dirt road section that was shorter than I recalled.
Next up was the Antelope Creek segment, some of the most fun you can have on a bike. Five miles of almost all downhill contoured swoopiness with a bit of exposure mixed in. Fun, fun, fun!!
The trail isn't overly technical, but does command your attention.

We reached Crown King rd and George took a poll: Who wants to get a beer? It was unanimous, we'd take a 5 mile detour up the dirt road to the mining town of Cleator where there's a bar and yacht club. Yes, a yacht club. No water in sight mind you.
The entire town of Cleator sprawled out before you.
An eclectic place to kick back.
Sea of rocks & cactus.
There were a few tourists hanging around curious to know where we came from and where we were headed. By 11am it was getting warm, time to mosey down the trail.

I was crossing one of the rock armored drainages when I became stuck on a large rock. The rear wheel came up and I was about to go over when I ejected off the trail and down into the wash five feet below. The bike came crashing down, but otherwise seemed fine, so I rode on not thinking much about it. Chalk it up to another bullet dodged while riding.
Short uphill leading to the second long downhill of the ride.

Chris nearing another rock armored wash.
Karl's in there somewhere.
We crested the only real sustained uphill of the day and I thought something didn't feel right with the bike. I lifted the rear wheel and gave the cranks a hard 1/2 pedal. The rear wheel barely made it through two full revolutions before abruptly coming to a halt. Hmmm, looks like I bent my rotor during my tumble. There were only 5 miles or so left and the bike was riding well enough that I opted to not futz with it. A little added resistance training!!

One by one we wrapped up the ride. David happened to finish his training ride a few minutes later as well. It was a great day to be out, but probably my last BCT ride until fall. A ride on this trail isn't complete until you stop for some pie at the Rock Springs Cafe. The place was packed per usual as I waited for the others to retrieve George's truck. Thanks for the invite guys, had a blast.

May 21, 2016

Flagstaff: Got Nuffin'

I left the Big Bug trailhead after my BCT North ride and made good time getting to Flagstaff. The AES Aspen Asphyxiation ride was the following day, but I was still hungry for huge miles. I concocted a route that would use the entire AES course and tag on a classic Around the Mountain loop. 105 miles of alpine spinning. That's what I wanted, needed actually. Perhaps a bit of a 750 hangover, I don't know, but it sounded good to me.
Near our campsite.
I met Jeff & Nancy near our preferred campsite, then we cruised into town for a meal at Historic Brewing.Co. We crashed out early and the winds finally died down for the evening.

My alarm started chirping at 4:15am, one snooze hit later I was up and on my way to the AES start at Safeway. I had slept really well, but for some reason wasn't super amped to get going. It took me forever to get all my gear in order and I finally rolled out of the parking lot a few minutes before 6am.

The AES route begins with a 2 mile or so neutral rollout to the Elden Lookout rd. I hadn't yet reached the dirt road and I was already trying to convince myself to keep riding. Not exactly the mentality you want at the beginning of a 100 mile ride. Whatever the reason, I just couldn't 'get into it', but I pedaled on hoping my mind would snap out of it.

The climb up Elden wasn't helping matters. It was work. It was also much longer than I had remembered. I was pretty cooked at the top and took a few moments to enjoy the incredible views off to the east.
Cinder cones pock-mark the Earth.
Upper Sunset trail is divine.
One of these days, I'm going to descend Heart trail.
Off the ridge and into the forest.
Hobbit Forest section.
The subsequent downhill will lift anyone's spirits. It was a blast, but I began to wonder when the fast riders would catch up to me. I had a little over an hours headstart.

By this time I had already abandoned my big plans for the day. It just wasn't happening. So, now what? Do an ATM loop anyway? Stay on the Elden side of things? There was a re-route of the Arizona Trail, AZT, coming through town that I wanted to check out. That was the deciding factor, stay over near Elden.
Nice place for a snack.
I was taking a break down near the Sunset trailhead when the leaders arrived. One by one they zoomed by making the turn up Climb 3.
That downhill was so much fun, even Angry Ray is smiling!!
Chase & Kaitlyn puttin' the hammer down.
Eric rounding out the lead group in 7th position.
I debated for a bit about skipping Climb 3, but then I remembered how much fun the Sunset downhill is. Up I went. A few more racers passed by me, including Brett and Joe (who I informed was holding down the 11th spot). I was in need of some downhill grins by the time I reached Sunset.
Humphrey's Peak across the way.
Ran into Mike, who decided to go the opposite direction after mixing up his start location.
A few more racers passed me when I blew by a turnoff and dumped out on Elden Springs rd. Oops. I was now on the AZT heading down towards US89, this section is bypassed on the 750 in favor of the resupply route through Flagstaff. It's mostly a fast track, but the short loose uphills were killing me.
Blasting through an old burn area.
Class of '16 AZTR750 rider: Jason Hanson!!
I was up there a few hours prior.
I made the short side trip over to the Conoco station after crossing under US89. There were a few riders already there. I thought a chocolate milk, Kitkat & apple pie would make me feel better. They did!! Mike & Marcus rolled up a few minutes later, I was seeing all the AES riders at my pace!!
Mike finally making a group start for an AES ride.
Marcus was attending his first of many AES rides!!
 As soon as the guys passed by my photo station, I made the turn towards the Campbell Mesa trails. More fast singletrack followed. I was looking forward to riding a few miles of the Flagstaff Loop Trail opposite than I normally do.

I stopped for a snack break as the lead racers were now heading towards me on the Loop Trail. Ray flew by me, still smiling I might add, holding down 2nd place only 20-30 seconds behind the leader. They would later finish in a tie. Eugene was bummed to hear how far ahead Ray was when I told him '2 miles'. Chase & Kaitlyn were hot on his heels, then a solid 20 minute gap ensued before Joe rode past me. It was fun seeing my friends out on route, pushing themselves. I was feeling better, so I decided to check out a different trail leading back towards town.
Flat & fast describes this route.
All of a sudden the 2-track is gone - singletrack takes over.
This alternate trail rejoined the AZT at the I-40 underpass next to Rio de Flag. I was now ready to check out the new(er) AZT reroute through town to Buffalo Park. It was a wide multi-use path that climbed up onto a small mesa, less pavement, more dirt = win.
These deer weren't too concerned about the guy on a bike.
Nice climb up the mesa/
It was a cool route to Buffalo Park. I split off there bombing down to the pavement and over to Safeway where my car waited. About 10 minutes later the racers began to show up. Most hung out for a bit, all griping about the final miles on Pipeline trail into a nasty headwind. Bleh.

Even though my ride plans were altered, it was a great day to be out on the trails. Good to see some friends I hadn't hung out with in a while. Thanks to Ray for putting on another fun, but tough AES ride.

May 20, 2016

BCT North: Russian Well

Flagstaff was the goal for the weekend, but I was able to jumpstart my travel north when I only had to work a couple of hours on Friday. I was on the road by 10am heading up I-17, but before making a beeline to the pines I thought I'd go check out a loop on the northern fringes of the Black Canyon Trail (BCT). I had heard the new(er) trail up there was good, just needed some tires on it and some catclaw pruning.

Of course I forgot my clippers. The forecast for the entire weekend was for windy conditions, 30mph gust kind of windy. It was already happening when I was getting ready at the Big Bug trailhead. This route was all new-to-me terrain and I hoped to knock out the 28 miles in under 4 hours.

The first 18 miles are on well graded dirt roads, Old Sycamore & Orme rds. They have a few short hills to begin with then get stupid fast when coupled with a modest tailwind!!
Downhill with a tailwind: Zoom!!
End of Old Sycamore rd. near I-17.
More quality dirt road on Orme rd.
I finally saw the first BCT sign near mile 15, but the 'trail' didn't begin here. It was more dirt road, slightly downgraded condition from the prior two, but still a very rideable section.
Northern terminus of the BCT.
A kinder, gentler Arizona jeep road.
Seemingly endless views climbing the hills.
Jeep road turns south, allowing the wind to smack me head-on, only for a short bit.
I dropped into Russian Well where a few cattle greeted me near the windmill. I rode passed the remnants of a stone structure and found the turnoff onto singletrack. Finally, some trail!!
Russian Well.
Well contoured trail, something the BCT is famous for.
Talk about vague!! Good thing I had a GPS, barely a hint of other trail users.
I highly recommend riding this trail with a GPS loaded with a track to follow. There were many times where the trail was virtually non-existent or the multitude of cow paths often were more established.

I was cruising along and rode through a small dip in the trail and heard a very pronounced 'SNAP'!! Not the sound anyone wants to hear when riding. I stopped to find out what broke. It was my saddle...again. Second one in 6 months. Hmmm. Making me wonder if it's reliable enough for the crap I ride on. The Achilles Heel this time was the mounting bracket for the tensioning screw on the nose of the saddle.
A bit more sag, but it was still rideable.
Prickly Pear forest in full bloom.
A rare shady spot.
The Agua Fria River actually had water in it!!
Mmmm, good climbing.
Ranch greenbelt.
This gate made good camouflage for the Voodoo.
One final gate before crossing Old Sycamore rd.
Copper Mtn. Hopefully soon there will be a spur loop completed over there.
While I saw no evidence of tire tracks or footprints on the trail, it's a really good ride. Next time I'll tack on a bunch of extra miles for a full day outing. Go ride this trail!!