November 17, 2018

AES: Picketpost Pulverizer '18

The Picketpost Pulverizer. The name alone says it all. I have a feeling some riders read that and think: 'No way' without ever looking at the route. While it's one of the hardest single day rides AES has on its calendar, 74 miles (57 of it on the Arizona Trail) & 10,000'+ of climbing; I've done it before and while difficult, it's a fantastic route covering some of the most beautiful, remote trail you'll ever ride...twice. I felt ready to give myself a big test. I wanted to see if I could finish it and if I could, I knew I was well on my way to regaining my lost fitness from earlier in the year.

Five other riders came out for the challenge and the pre-dawn start: Kurt, Courtney, Jason, Justin, Evan and myself. I figured Evan and I would be seeing a bunch of the trail together while the others would be long gone.

We rolled out on time, 5am, with Jason leading the way. It was nice to actually stay on Kurt's wheel for an entire mile - thanks for blocking the trail Jason!! :) Jason pulled off to the side as Kurt & Courtney rolled ahead. I watched their lights gradually fade into the abyss, Evan soon followed, then Justin caught up after misplacing his keys at the start. I stayed in contact with Evan & Justin's lights for a few miles, but no sign of Jason. Hmmm.
Daybreak beginning to reveal the surrounding desert.
I was feeling good, taking a methodical approach for the long day ahead. I lost visual on both Evan & Justin a little before this photo and was wondering what was up with Jason. He's a much stronger rider than I am and should've caught me by now.
Sunrise casting a glow over Picketpost Mtn. about 9 1/2 miles into the ride.
I was somewhere beyond the 10 mile overlook, making slow progress towards the Tonto NF boundary when Jason finally came up behind me. He said he went out too fast and bonked, let off the gas to recover and here he was. We rode together for a couple of miles before he put a gap on me and was gone somewhere near the south end of Martinez Canyon.
I must have hundreds of photos in Martinez Canyon, all different times of the day/night. It never gets old.

A sliver of safety in an unforgiving land.

It feels as if you can see all the way to Mexico from here.

The routing through the rock outcroppings is surprisingly rideable.

The Gila Saddle signals the beginning of the 7 mile, 2,000' descent to the Gila River. Splash down!!!

Mt. Lemmon rises over 9,000' some 80+ miles away.
Always good to see this fella. 👍👍

Dale's Butte.
I reached the Gila River basin and as soon as I turned the corner to access the river, I saw Evan. The river was surprisingly low, lowest I've ever seen. Evan said both Jason & Justin had only passed through a few minutes ago. I asked if they rode across the river, they had!! I rolled off the bank and easily pedaled dry.

Evan cruises through the Gila River.
I started to break out the snacks when we heard a distinct rumble approaching. Train? There were tracks nearby. Evan was ready to go, so he went to investigate. I followed a couple minutes later and caught a glimpse of the train disappearing into the trees. I had only seen a water tanker getting hauled on those tracks, this was a legit train. We sure didn't expect to see that.
A tangled mess of branches form a tunnel near the Gila.

Finished my snack break here as Evan rode on.
 I got going a few minutes later and almost instantly found the route more sandy than I remembered. It was about a mile of slogging along, sometimes walking, but it went by fast enough.
Coke Oven viewpoint.
The ensuing 8+ miles were mostly uphill on deserted dirt roads overlooking the Gila River basin. As I climbed higher the Gila Canyons spread out below. It's a marvelous sight.
Gila Canyons. Dale's Butte is slightly left of center, the AZT drops down the valley in front of it.

Heading towards and around Grayback.

Looking back to the west.

For the most part, the dirt road was very rideable as it climbed to the Florence-Kelvin Hwy.

The well maintained Florence-Kelvin Hwy means a 4 1/4 mile downhill!!

Pinal Mtn. soars above.

Fresh re-route and new bridge over the Gila River in Kelvin.

I arrived around noon to the ADOT spigot where Evan was munching on a burrito. This train broke the silence as it made its way towards the Ray Mine on a different set of tracks than before.
From Kelvin the final 36 miles are on the AZT. The Picketpost to Kelvin section is a big ride by itself, tack it on to an already taxing 38 miles and we knew it would be a late night. How late was anyone's guess. We figured it would take around 9 hours. We took off about 12:30p.
Shortly after getting back on route, I found this puffy jacket. That's either one heck of a find or it was Justin or Jason's. I snagged it and later found out it was Jason's.

AZT super duper gate.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's November, right? Poppies?? I saw a few random ones throughout the ride. Although some rogue flowers are confused, it should be a stellar spring for wildflower viewing.

Top of the first climb along the Gila, brass cap marking the official completion of the Arizona Trail some 7 years earlier.

Evan and I would ride most of the remaining miles together, leap frogging when the other stopped for pics!! Err, I mean adjusting our race strategies!!

The Gila River makes a brief appearance.

Rob's handywork. So glad this gate in particular has been swapped out.

Finished with the brunt of the early climbing along the river. I didn't feel too bad, lost a bit of power on the final climb.

Sonoran Wall St.

'What are those peaks over there?' Answer: White Canyon Wilderness.

It's purdy out there.
We made ok time reaching the turn into the Gila Canyons. I know I slowed down on the final miles, but I felt fine. This was key for me, last time I battled cramping issues and really had a difficult time although I rode it faster.

Evan and I made our way over to the river to filter water for the final push. We ran into hikers whose footprints we'd been following all afternoon. They offered to fill up my bladder, since they had already gravity filtered a bunch of water. Much appreciated. It was nearing sundown as we began our grind up the canyon.
Nearing Dale's Butte once again, this time in fading light.
The middle portion of the climb rides really well. Evan clearly had more energy and consistently pulled away from me, but it was cool to see his light against the inky backdrop. I stopped for a calorie intake somewhere on the upper reaches of the climb. By now Evan's light couldn't be seen, I find the inner canyon relaxing at night even when no one is immediately nearby.

I caught up to Evan as we traversed across Martinez Canyon. We made good time through there, but the next climb took us a while since there was a bunch of loose rock on the trail. Neither one of us had the will to fight it.
Huge fella!!
We now had 10 miles to go and as they say 'It's mostly downhill!!'. I know better. While the trail does trend downhill, there are plenty of ups to keep you honest and quite a few rocks to navigate. Evan pulled away for good as I stopped one more time for food. 

The miles ticked by and soon I could see a stray light or two near the trailhead. Evan was there trying to get a finish shot, but it came out as a blurry mess. It was now 11:30p. We both made it!! And laughed at the fact at how long it took to get from Kelvin to Picketpost - 11 hours for me. Yikes.
All 6 starters finished, that's quite an accomplishment. I hope people continue to challenge themselves on this route, it's a keeper.


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