September 30, 2018

AZT: Putting the Happy in Happy Jack

Oh, Happy Jack. How I loathed you during the AZTR750. It was by far my mental low point of the ride. When I heard about plans to add 18 miles of singletrack along this passage to replace the lava rock strewn jeep roads, I had to get involved.

An official Arizona Trail work event was planned for the big kick-off and Jeff & Nancy were also game to cut prime trail through the forest. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans as Arizona went over 100 days this spring without rain. The forests were closed and the ATA had to delay the party a few months.

A date was rescheduled and the three of us were eager to see what would develop. The event was held over two days, camping out near Bargaman Park just north of Happy Jack. Some food was provided and a big potluck was on tap for Saturday night. I decided to skip the Friday night campout and arrived just as things were getting going Saturday morning. The plan was to split up into groups, with some of the more energetic crowd heading off on a mile+ hike to the work area with the head Trail Director, Shawn Redfield. We jumped at the opportunity to pry rocks from the ground!!
New AZT sign in front of a blank slate. The flagging marks the intended route.

Plenty of tools to go around.
Making our way to the work zone. We wouldn't be cutting fresh trail today, instead we'd be cleaning up the new tread.

Nancy digging in.

The pry bars ended up being the best tool at removing the large embedded boulders.

A triumphant removal.

These rocks seemed too big to pry out...

So, they were filled in and made into a small rock step.

Another culprit.

Smooth aftermath.
The day went by quickly and our crew took care of at least a dozen large boulders in the trail. It was shaping up quite nicely. Our workday ended around 3p and I couldn't wait to get my tires on the new dirt. I was surprised to see I was the only person to bring a bike!! First tracks.
Heading south from Bargaman Park on pristine singletrack complete with a Rob Bauer special: AZT super gate.

Forested singletrack >>> Lava rock jeep road.

The end of the trail already had a marker installed. Open for business!!

Looking back north at the new turnoff.

I decided to check out the nearby stock pond.

So did one of the local residents.

For comparison's sake I rode the now 'old' AZT back to Bargaman Park to see what I'd be missing on my next ride up here.

As suspected. Not only was it chunky, slow riding another benefit arose: wind protection. The new trail was calm, but out here on the open jeep roads, I was getting blasted.

A little bit of legacy singletrack had to be sacrificed for the new trail. Small price to pay.
By the time I arrived back at camp, the potluck was getting into full swing. Talk about a feast!! The food was delicious and the rest of the evening we spent hanging out, meeting people who came from all over the state to help out.

It was still windy, so I opted to sleep in my car.

The next morning pancakes were on the griddle and the plan was for everyone to carve out brand new trail through the meadow next to the trailhead.

Armed with a pick axe, we lined up along the flagged corridor. We'd each build about 15' of trail, one flag to the next, then hop down the line for another segment.
My slice of personal AZT.

AZT chain gang.

Let the record show, I built non-HAB AZT!!!!

Slightly north of Pine Mtn. for reference.

The group attacks the spur trail into the trailhead.

Jeff's getting good at wiping out the tall grass roots.

Some of the ATA gear.

The trailer names were very appropriate.

It's easy to spot the AZT mobile.
We finished the trail work in short order. I think everyone was a bit surprised at how fast we knocked it out. That's what happens when 30 or so dedicated trail users come together working towards a common goal.

It was now time to put my tires on the newly minted trail. My plan was to ride all the way north to where the other new-to-me re-route was built last year, then turn around.
Bargaman Park aka Bargaman Meadow.

Some of the old singletrack rides well...

Other sections still need some TLC.

Don't worry, this section is part of the singletrack conversion area.

Shuffs Tank marks the exit of the rocky jeep road, back on singletrack.

Good singletrack I might add.

This sign signals the beginning of the re-routed section on the north end of the project.

I was very pleased to see the routing through these boulders.

Such a cool section of trail.

Turnaround point at Gooseberry Springs trailhead near the crossing of Lake Mary Rd.

Only 3 downed trees along the trail.

Picked clean and sun bleached.

There's still plenty of work to do.

A before & after shot from the trailhead.
It was a fun and very rewarding weekend. A huge thanks to the ATA and staff that came out to work & host. I'm hoping to schedule more trail build time as the events get posted. This area is prime to become a summer destination for riders looking to escape the heat in the Valley.

Please consider a donation to the Arizona Trail Association, specifically the Happy Jack Singletrack project. Budgets have recently been slashed and the ATA needs your support more than ever these days.

September 21, 2018

Queen Creek: Tour Divide Training

I've decided to through my hat into the Tour Divide ring in 2019. I've been following the ride, held the second Friday of June each year, since 2009. A few years ago I began to think I could do it. In 2016 I completed the AZTR750 and knew I could do it. Then, in 2017 I managed to outlast the weather and completed the CTR. Anyone following the ultra bikepacking race scene knows that's 2/3 of the Triple Crown or the Big Three of bikepack racing. The Tour Divide is the other. I want to complete the career Triple Crown and I wanted to do it before I turned the big 5-0. Well, that meant I needed to begin planning for it in earnest. I'm 47 now, 48 by the time the ride rolls around.

Now this ride is a bit bigger than anything I've ever done. It's over three times longer than the AZTR750. I think I know what it takes to do these types of events, but this time I don't want to simply finish. I want to finish strong, put in a solid effort. You know, give it all I got. I've never had or used structured training, so I figured this may be a good time to find a coach.

I'm fortunate enough to know a few coaches and one in particular has done all the big rides, not just finished them, but set records and learned how to meticulously prepare for these types of efforts. It was an easy decision to hire Kurt Refsnider of Ultra MTB Consulting. Not only is he an amazing rider, he's extremely humble, a genuine good dude and someone I have called a friend for a few years.

The challenge for me was to incorporate structure to my often hodgepodge riding. The challenge for Kurt would be to find ways to get that structured riding scheduled around my crazy work schedule. We've synced up the Training Peaks app where Kurt can upload my training plans into the app, I do the rides or workouts and upload the data to my Garmin Connect account where it's linked back to Training Peaks for evaluation. It's a nifty tool. I have to admit, I'm geeking out a bit seeing my heart rate & cadence data. Something I've never cared about in the past.

One thing I've done in preparation was purchasing an indoor trainer, a CycleOps Fluid 2. This allows me to get some spin time in after a long day at work when I otherwise wouldn't touch my bike.
I wanted the Havok from Binary Bicycles hooked up to the trainer since this will be my TD rig next June. I can't thank George & Jalene Harris enough for the opportunity to ride that bike.
Another thing I've done is to embrace the nearby canal & bikepath system where I can get steady tempo style rides in. Again, not something I ever really did other than to connect longer rides with singletrack. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was enjoyed those rides.
Queen Creek wash bikepath barely one mile from home.

Plenty of sights along my training circuit.

True. Everyone loves pie!!

Sonoqui Wash bikepath, a tad flooded on this day, but the underpass is nice.

Historical sights too.

100+ years of history only a few miles from home.
The QC.
One of the newer community parks with access to the Queen Creek wash bikepath.

Great route for night riding too.

If you keep your eyes peeled, you may find a wad of cash on the path too!! $$$
Mesa has a nice network of canals that link into both Queen Creek & Gilbert for long training loops.
The Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport makes for a nice side trip.

This was once Williams Air Force Base.

Home sweet home.
I've done a few training rides and am starting to get my legs/lungs back. Time to step up the adventure meter once again. I've been longing for the sunrise to sunset+ types of rides. Giddy up!!