July 9, 2016

Bikepacking101: Mogollon Rim v3.0

Now in its third iteration, the Bikepacking101 ride is one of my favorites. It's so cool to see people try a different aspect of mountain biking for the first time. There's just something liberating about riding off into woods.desert, etc. with everything you need for an overnight stay or more.

This year I was more determined to complete the backend of the second day via dirt roads. The prior two rides both culminated in sketchy shoulderless spins along AZ87.

The number of attendees kept creeping higher as the day approached, I wasn't sure how many would actually show. A few of us were going up on Friday to camp out before the ride. I was able to head north early arriving in Payson sometime after 9:30a, it was already 86º!! Thirty minutes later I pulled onto FR300 and the temp gauge was now reading a pleasant 72º, that's more like it.

I had some liquid refreshments I wanted to drop off in a creek farther into the ride on day 1. Kelly was also coming up early for a short General Crook exploratory ride of sorts. My detour took way longer than expected, so we met back near the highway before finding a group camp location for the night. After lunch we loaded up and rode back towards the highway where the Gen. Crook trail alignment went through.
General Crook trail & chevron blaze. Photo by Kelly.
The thing about the GC trail is, it's not much of a trail at all. It's an old military supply route dating back to the 1800's. They didn't exactly have mountain biking in mind when they built it. Back in the 1970's some Boy Scouts took it upon themselves to mark the original trail with chevron shaped blazes on the trees. This would be our main source of following the trail even though I had a track loaded. We found out quickly that the track was essentially useless.

Our ride rapidly turned into a scavenger hunt, scanning the forest intently for trail blazes all while trying to avoid obstacles while we pedaled. We'd slow down when nothing was visible, then take off for a distant tree that marked the way. It was pretty fun riding. We came to one gate near the pavement, but it was padlocked, so we backtracked to a drainage where we last saw a blaze. Time for some bushwhacking!!
Eventually we made our way back towards the road and spotted a few blazes on the other side of a barbed wire fence. I was a little hesitant to climb over the wire, so we followed the fenceline for a bit, then found an easier spot to hop across. My goal for the day was to link the GC trail into the Pine Canyon trail which leads down to the town of Pine and some really good riding.

We found the dirt road that turns into Pine Canyon, following it down until it was obvious we hit the gnarly switchback section. Success!!
No trail in sight, pushing up a steep drainage and smiling. That's the right attitude!!
"Switchbacks", huh.
Enjoying the view into Pine Canyon. Photo by Kelly.
On our way back we decided to have a bit of a competition on an upcoming climb. Who could climb the farthest? Kelly - 1, John - 0. This theme would continue over the weekend as we came to tough sections of the route: Climb Challenge!!

We stayed on the road side of the fence on the way back where the trail did indeed cross the fence at the padlocked gate. It was much easier to hop from this direction. It ended up being a nice 7 mile or so spin, but definitely rekindled my thoughts of trying to follow the Crook trail over its entire 145 mile length.

To our surprise we were still the only two at camp. We had been relaxing for a bit when Kelly asked if I noticed the buzzing sounds, I had, but didn't think too much about it. I started looking around and noticed a swarm of bees hanging around the top of the pine tree we were settled under. There appeared to be a hollowed out branch that was now home to these bees. Time to move!! Luckily, there was another large campsite around the corner and soon some of the others arrived.

We ended up with 9 people camping out, 8 would be doing the bikepacking thing while Igor was driving his truck out to our second night campsite for some day riding.

In the morning we relocated to the ride start and picked up three more riders and another car camper. It was another large turnout with only Ben & Kelly returning from the Grand Canyon bikepack. I believe we had 5 first time bikepackers too, which is really cool. I could tell there was some nervous energy at the staging area, so we lined up for a group shot and pedaled off down the dirt.
Good looking gang ready to head out.
The first 13 miles or so are along forest roads, most of which are FR300, aka the Rim Road. It's probably my favorite forest road in the state as it contours the Mogollon Rim along the way offering spectacular views of the high country.
Spotted these two black rattlesnakes on the side of FR300.
One of a few spectacular views along the way.
Cell phone self-timer, where'd that plant come from!! Sorry Bev & Kevin.
Kelly and I beginning to wonder about the possibilities of this one.
George mashing along.
Up & down we go all along the rim.
Jalene cruising along FR300.
High above Washington Park and the AZT.
One of my favorite parts of the 101 ride is getting everyone's pic with their gear. This time I decided to do it during the ride at an appropriate location - the junction with the Arizona Trail. Great place for a break and only 7 more miles to our camp.
Todd on his maiden bikepacking ride.
Karl was also a first timer.
Ben and Kimberly.
The Bevinator finally in bikepacking mode!!
George & Jalene, another first timer.
Justin excited to check out new terrain.
Kelly's color coordinated setup.
Kevin also making the jump into bikepacking.
We are here.
The AZT crests the Mogollon Rim here and joins the historic Cabin Loop trail system for a few miles doubling as the Fred Haught trail. The trail follows a drainage often filled with blue-ish gray water, some technical rocky riding and handlebar high ferns in the summer. I had a feeling we were in for a treat. You decide.
Cruising along the AZT. Photo by Kelly.
Ferns high enough to bury a bike.
Every time Karl stopped, he couldn't contain his enthusiasm!! Awesome.
A break in the ferns as the riders zigzag into the forest.
Ooh, my favorite, 1/2 downed tree that some smaller riders can get under!! Photo by Kelly.
Peace out man. Photo by Ben.
I think she likes it!! Photo by Ben.
Good to have a few couples out on this one. Photo by Ben.
A few water crossings needed rock hopping skills.
Taking a break at the AZT / Fred Haught split.
Ben rolling the plus sized tires.
Kimberly along Fred Haught Draw.
Kelly may be in HAB mode here, but once again she crushed me in the climb challenge.
HAB train before camp. Photo by Ben.
What have we here? The stream gives life to the party!!
Bev making the rock bridge crossing into Aspen Spring, our campsite.
There will be no handstand challenge, I'll concede right now.
We found Igor's truck when we arrived at camp shortly before 2pm, he was out on a day spin around the Cabin Loops hopping over dozens of downed trees on U-Bar trail. Bev's husband, Steve, was nowhere to be seen though, we thought for sure he'd also be here. Apparently, the turnoff to the camp entrance is extremely difficult to find. After cruising around the area forest roads all morning he was able to receive a message with more precise detail and spot a makeshift cairn pointing the way to camp.

One by one all the riders arrived at Aspen Spring. We staked out our claims for our stay and relaxed for a couple of hours.

There was still a short loop to ride, so I began to round everyone up. Some were content to stay relaxed at camp, so a few of us headed up the dirt road where another climbing challenge presented itself...as did another defeat. WTH!! I'm fairly certain I was being shutout in this 'so-called' competition: 0-5.
Kevin & Justin spinning some easy miles down to the Houston Brothers trail.
 This was a short 6 mile or so loop, half on forest road, but all the singletrack on Houston Brothers trail was downhill back to camp. More good news too, only one downed tree to hop over!
I think I startled Justin by hiding around this corner.
I picked up a few friends along the way.
Kevin in a sea of ferns.
Kelly disappearing into the foliage.
Ben clearing a path on the fat tires.
Barely five minutes after returning to camp, Igor rolled in finishing off a nice outer loop of the trail system. For the rest of the afternoon / evening we all relaxed and enjoyed our surroundings.

I've been to Aspen Spring many times over the years, but never knew there was a makeshift cave at the spring itself. I saw Todd climb out of the rocks and he told me how cold the water was inside. Sure enough, it was easy to climb down into the hole and filter refreshingly cold water. It also made a nice fridge for the beers!!
The watering hole fits one comfortably, maybe two.
Natural skylights as well.
Our campsite for the night.
Justin in chill mode. Photo by Igor
While I was eating dinner another rider, John, rode up. He was on a slick looking Black Sheep bike and had heard about our ride on the AZ Forum. He had a place nearby that Igor happened to stumble upon while out on his ride. As it turns out, he knew a few of the people on our ride.
John & the Black Sheep.
I opted to not use my tent I had carried as the bugs were absent. I slept well and got going shortly after first light the next morning. Five of us planned on doing the longer return, while the others rode back the way we came out.

Things warmed up quickly during the first few climbs. I even started to level the climbing challenge score a bit!! Kelly had other issues to deal with, her front brakes were getting really squishy, barely working at all. We later found her brake line had a leak in it. It didn't take long before she was completely without front brakes.

Igor decided to join us as well and met up at the AZT split. There was a downed tree leading into the first HAB of the day and as I got ready to step over it, I saw a large rock on the righthand side. I mentioned to Ben how it looked rideable, so he took off for it.
Ben's fall occurred in slo-mo, looks like he fell into a hole.
Take two went much smoother.
This is the smaller of the two HAB efforts on the Blue Ridge passage.
Up top the riding gets really good. It's 10 miles of fast flatish terrain leading into the second big HAB of the day.
Easy trail at the top.
Justin fixing his snapped chain.
Kevin dropping into the reservoir crossing. Photo by Igor.
I love this HAB!! I couldn't match Igor's pace though. Photo by Igor.
Sure was fun watching the others grunt to the top!! Photo by Igor.
Kevin nearing the end of the Blue Ridge HAB.
Sorry, Kelly. HAB is my strong suit, score two more for the climbing challenge!!
The closest I got to capturing Igor in HAB mode.
The chunky lava rocks give way to pristine forest singletrack.
Snack break at Blue Ridge Campground.
Nearing the end of the Blue Ridge Passage. Photo by Igor.
The few good miles of the Happy Jack passage of the AZT.
Five miles into Happy Jack we reached our forest road destination. This was the portion of the route that had a few dead ends in years past. Hopefully my modified route would prove successful. The natives were getting a little restless as the promise of food, cold drinks and ice cream awaited in Clint's Well. How many more miles?? I didn't want to remind the gang that a large portion of the upcoming route was a hand-drawn track - anything goes!!
Great wide open dirt roads to speed along.
Igor's not a fan of anything but singletrack, he's scouring his phone in hopes of finding some...or a Pokemon.
Everyone seems genuinely excited to enter the hand-drawn portion of the route.
We did hit a minor snag when a right rurn didn't exist!! We continued on, found another dirt road about a mile down and took it. Barely five minutes later we were back on course! Whew.
Let's go!
Ice cream pit-stop!!
There were still 12 unknown miles to go, mostly uphill. We were all hoping the resupply fueled our legs for the climb. Kelly made sure we all knew how cooked her legs were, then promptly passed everyone on the first climb. Total sandbagger. Justin and I sort of kept up with her while the others dropped back a bit.
So far so good and not nearly as uphill as we thought!
I took the route onto a less traveled dirt road here, I wanted to see Potato Lake!
The three of us decided to push on since we were so close to being finished. Our doubletrack seemed to terminate at Potato Lake, but upon further inspection we found a bypass with minimal bushwhacking.
Justin points the way.
We dropped onto an old roadbed for a few miles. It was cool to be on such a primitive route so close to the end.
Gateway to the forest.
The final quarter mile of jeep road had clearly been dredged by the forest service, they made it apparent that no motor vehicles would travel down this dirt road. We simply rode by all the down trees & rocks. We dumped out into a dirt cul-de-sac where a couple people were camping. A few feet later we were back on FR300 for one final climb and bomber descent to the vehicles.

We finished up and found the other three already there! They didn't take the scenic route via Potato Lake.

What a fun weekend!! Great group of riders out enjoying what Arizona has to offer. Hopefully, a few more people have caught the bikepacking bug. Thanks to everyone for coming out and making it awesome!!

Photo album:

1 comment: