November 18, 2016

Picketpost from Home & Lessons Learned

I've been searching for a direct dirt route from my place in Queen Creek over to Gold Canyon for a while now. I haven't had much luck due to closed off areas, private property, etc. I did manage a suitable ride last year on the EV100, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for, too much pavement. Then my buddies, George & Mike, did an interesting loop just south of where I live. I poked around on their track and saw they used the Ocotillo rd alignment to get eastbound. I know I checked that option out, but only encountered locked gates. I guess they found a way through.
CAP canal at the Ocotillo rd overpass.
I decided to roll right from home adding in a few extra flat miles on the bike path & Ocotillo road to get to their starting point. This would make the route about 88 miles with the daunting AES Picketpost Punisher A route the following day. I felt up to the challenge and I needed to test out a modified fork anyway.

The backstory on the fork is, my old trusty Rock Shox Reba finally had enough of me pounding it into the ground week after week. It lived a long mtb life and I was very happy with it. A buddy from work gave me a Fox Float 32 fork he had lying around for free, but the steerer tube was a little too short for the XL Voodoo headtube. I have another friend, a machinist/fabricator, weld on an extension for me. When I picked it up I couldn't see where he did the work, it looked incredible. Either way, I was hoping to get a couple months out of it while I finally started saving for a new frame/fork combo.
The extension before the star nut was pounded in.
I had a few friends warn me about trying this modification, but no real concrete evidence of failures either. It was a risk I was willing to take.

I set out early and kept a good pace going on the flat terrain. I was surprised to see the locked gate on Ocotillo rd was wide open, as was the gate by the CAP canal. I just figured it was open during weekdays now as I saw a couple of work trucks by the canal.
Fast dirt on Ocotillo rd.
A little bit of sand, but mostly more fast dirt through the OHV area.
Crossing over US60 between Gold Canyon & Florence Junction.

Ocotillo rd turns to dirt at the first gate and is closed to motorized traffic as well, so that was nice. A few miles later I reached a fenced off parcel of State Trust Land designated for OHV use. There also happened to be a usable gate there!! This was my missing connection.  Five miles later I was crossing US60 about to link into familiar dirt roads leading into Queen Valley and a snack break.
Picketpost Mtn. rising up on the distant horizon.
This was about as close as I'd get to the Superstition Mtns.
Lush golf course in Queen Valley
I can only imagine the rowdy scene here Sat. a retirement community!!

Fueled up on a microwave cheeseburger and Doritos, I was ready to get over to the AZT at Picketpost Mtn. But first, the route threw me a bit of a curveball as it deviated from the AZTR750 route for a couple of miles beginning with a stout HAB up the backside of Whitlow Dam. At the top was a stranded barbed wire fence separating me from the nicely graded dirt road on the other side. I poked around and discovered the top strand was only looped loosely over a fence post allowing easy access through.
For once, it actually looks steep in a photo!!
Backside of Whitlow Dam.

I dropped into the Queen Creek basin for a mile or so then connected to the familiar Hewitt Station rd. Five miles later I was reunited with the AZT.
Easy pedaling on Hewitt Station rd.
39 miles from my front door, I was on the AZT.
Iconic shot along the AZT.

The next 10 miles of my route would be the slowest, mostly uphill, some HAB and techy bits of trail wind through this rugged scenic slice of Arizona. I thought if I crested the high point by 3pm, I might be able to make it home before dark.
The trail rises just south of Picketpost unveiling Weaver's Needle on the distant horizon.
A well contoured climb leads to this dramatic view of Picketpost Mtn.
Looking back on the trail approach to the 5 ultra tight switchbacks before FR4.

 I enjoy trying to clean switchback climbs or descents. They can be a true test of bike handling, balance and nerve. On this day, I had my best ever showing on this particular section. I cleaned 4 of 5 only getting hung up on the exit of SB #4, then finished off SB #6 which a bit farther up the trail. A solid run like that always pumps me up. Well, at least until I started to climb...HAB up FR4's rubbly mess. I hadn't been up here since the AES Pulverizer route in 2014 and didn't recall so many rough bits.
Side view towards Martinez Canyon.
Desert sentinel.
High point attained before 3pm!! Almost looking down on Picketpost from here.
Before there was singletrack, the AZT followed these rugged jeep roads. Ouch.

I started down the loose, sketchy descent towards Ajax Mine. There are sections of scree surfing, but it's all good. It doesn't last long before the grade lessens and it's more comfortable to open things up.

I knew I wasn't on this road for too long, I'd be turning west on Cottonwood Canyon rd, Roads out here are mostly unsigned, so it helps to know the area or have a reliable track to follow. As I neared my turnoff, the GPS beeped at me signaling an 'off route' warning. I stopped, thinking I somehow overshot my turn. As I zoomed out on the GPS I could see the track was truncated, then it hit me. Oops. I forgot to simplify the track down to 10k points as anything over that amount gets sliced off. Well, isn't that just grand? Right when I was about to head into unknown terrain. Good thing I at least studied the route a bit beforehand and had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for.

Barely a half a mile later I found a dirt road split that fit my mental description. I was still heading downhill, towards a small gap in the hills. This would take me out to SR79 where I'd cross over and find my way to the Skyline rd. alignment.

I was cruising down the dirt road, which wasn't too bad, when SNAP!! My handlebars lifted off the bike as I heard some metal bits bouncing off the rocks below and I went down. Kinda goes without saying, but the weld broke along with the sleeved insert. I was a little banged up, minor scrapes and a nice bruise on my left hip area.
That'll end the ride.
It was a little after 4pm when this occurred. I wasn't sure how far away from SR79 I was so I did my best guess via GPS and it looked like 10 miles or so. Hmmm. I wasn't sure how easy the bike would be to roll either, but I had plenty of food & water and my jacket. I had cell reception so I called K to tell her what happened and where to extract me. I figured it would be well after dark by the time I reached SR79.

I gathered up what parts I could find from my headset and started to walk out. My cables were long enough to hold the end of the bars to the nose of the seat, but I had to also hold the forks from coming out of the headtube. It wasn't the most comfortable position and after a mile of this I decided to ditch the bike in the desert for the night.
The Voodoo catching some zzzz's behind the Palo Verde tree.
I tried saving a waypoint for the location, but found out my GPS waypoint memory was full!! Oh well, I simply stopped my route recording instead. I took a few pics of the surrounding area and re-started the GPS so I knew how far up this road I'd have to come.

To my surprise I came to a private property sign about a quarter mile later, no gate, nothing out there but desert. A half mile later there was a locked gate that I was easily able to scale. Turns out there's a ranch house up a side hill and local knowledge has it that they were tired of the 4x4 crowd speeding through the canyon and littering. Plus, it's open range back there and there were plenty of cattle roaming about. I wouldn't mind asking them if bicycle travel is ok through here.
Sun dipping lower as I hoofed it up the road.
I came around a corner and there was a guy finishing up some target shooting. I flagged him down as he drove by and he had no problem giving me a lift out to SR79. While we were driving he mentioned that he used to ride as well and wouldn't mind getting back into it. He was headed back to Apache Junction and ended up dropping me off in Gold Canyon where K met me a few minutes later for dinner & margaritas. Not a bad way to end the day all things considered.

The next day I drove back out to Cottonwood Canyon rd, hopped the fence and hiked my wounded warrior out.
One of those is worse than the other!!
Afterwards, I drove over to the Picketpost trailhead to watch a few friends finish the Punisher route. It was there that Bart presented me an offer too good to pass up....(Sorry, gotta wait for the next post!)

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