February 15, 2019

Maricopa Trail: X-Ray Vision

The Maricopa Trail (MT) is a mixed terrain route that encircles the metro Phoenix area linking many of the Regional Parks together. A few months ago marked the official completion of the route. I had been keeping a keen eye on the progress knowing I'd be rearing to ride the entire loop in one multiday ride.

The main loop is about 230 miles, but there are a few spurs into nearby Regional Parks that when added, push the total upwards of 330 miles. This would be my goal. Ride. It. All.

February seemed like a good month to give it a whirl and the extended President's Day weekend fit the bill. I was aiming to ride the route in 3+ days averaging near 100 miles per day and finish early on day 4, Monday.

I lobbed the idea to Shannon & Beto, but Beto had committed to pit crew duties at the popular 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race that weekend. He gave Shannon the nudge to come along for some big mileage training days. She then invited the Hanson's, Jason & Jennifer. This was gonna be fun.

The desert southwest seems to be locked into a steady El Nino weather pattern lately. Desert wildflowers are everywhere and so are the rain clouds. A system moved in and soaked the region on Thursday and when we woke on Friday for the start, the roads were wet, skies gray, but things appeared to be clearing at least a bit. The weekend forecast looked ok, maybe some sprinkles on Sunday, but that was a couple days away. Let's ride.
Team #Loco primed and ready!!
We'd be riding the loop in a clockwise direction and starting from my house. I happen to live one mile from the San Tan spur, so we'd be knocking out the longest of the spur routes first. I typically ride my bike from home whenever I go for a local spin at San Tan Regional Park, the only difference in the official spur route compared to my route is the MT stays on Sossaman Rd. longer than I normally do. The only reason this is any concern is Sossaman Rd. doesn't have any shoulder or bike lanes whereas Hawes Rd does. This came into play early on as a large pickup truck pulling a trailer decided to not use the center turn lane to give us our lawful space. It was uncomfortably close, like less than a foot. Nothing like a good vehicle buzz to wake you up in the morning. Thanks a-hole.
We eventually turned on the Sonoqui Wash trail much to our delight.

San Tan Regional Park. Park #1 on the tour.
I'd like to give a quick shout out to my buddy, Charlie Kemp, from Florida. A few months ago he was in town and rode one of my loops and as a thank you he gave me an Arizona flag themed mesh netting add-on for my seatbag. Looks sharp and you can stuff all kinds of extra items in there on the fly. Thanks man!!

There was a Park Ranger at the trailhead and she reminded us to steer clear of any puddles on the trail. San Tan tends to hold up quite well in the rain or right after a storm, so I was liking our chances for hero dirt. Ranger pro-tip: 4 bike riders at $2 each = 1 car entry for $7. Save a buck or more, ride with friends!!
Shannon cresting the Dynamite trail climb.

Jennifer rides San Tan on occasion, but had never ridden Dynamite trail. She likes it!!

The Navy Blue has been sun bleached to purple.

Finishing our interior park loop, the Goldmine trail awaits in the distance.

This guy. Always smiling, goofing and will crush you on the climbs.

Here's proof. I'm already walking.
When I poured over the track I was taken aback when I saw the MT divert off the Dynamite trail to use the Goldmine trail. I've hiked it once, years ago and it's tough hiking!! I never really considered taking my bike on it. Recently I had heard the park had done some work on the trail, maybe it was more rideable??

Perhaps, but this wasn't one of the sections. Holy moly this was steep & rugged!!

I told Shannon we'd get an early dose of hike-a-bike!!

The big push leads to a false summit, but cool views of Four Peaks through the mist.

Appears to be blue sky approaching. South Mountain would be our next park destination.

From this perch the San Tan Mountains seem more like a mountain range.

Jason drops into the Goldmine descent.

Shannon's hot on his heels.

The elevation gained is rapidly lost.
I had to walk a couple of short pitches when my brakes weren't exactly slowing me down. It was quite the white knuckle descent, but overall very rideable. I'm sure plenty of riders can clean the whole thing, but it's a solid test.

Park #1 complete.
I realized halfway through the park that I had forgot my HR strap and I really wanted it for this ride. Luckily for us, we had to ride the MT back north to the Queen Creek Wash trail, which is only one mile from home. We all decided to make quick adjustments back at the house since we were going there and we'd divert off Sossaman Rd. in favor of the friendlier Hawes Rd. shoulders.

I'd love to see the inside of this property. It sits just outside the San Tan Goldmine trailhead.
We were cruising up Hawes Rd. took a turn into Desert Mountain Park where we'd link into the Queen Creek Wash trail. I always take this slight detour when I ride home from San Tan because it allows you free passage under the roads via trail. I've done it hundreds of times. Today was different, there was a small puddle of water right where the turn begins to enter the wash trail. It's all paved. Flat. The puddle was a little slimy and I saw it, slowed down, then felt my tires begin to slide...then slightly grip before sliding completely out from under me. Of course all of this is happening in one or two seconds, but I distinctly recall telling myself to not put out my left hand to brace my fall. I tucked it in, but when I hit the sidewalk on my left side, my right arm must have come around me and backhanded the pavement. HARD.

I looked up and saw Jason on the ground too. We both went down in an instant much to the surprise of each of us and the folks sitting on the park bench nearby. Jason popped up, but my hand was beginning to sting. The pain intensified almost to the point of nausea. I began pacing around hoping it would let up and we could get on with the ride. As the minutes wore on I began to realize that this could be serious. I had no grip power, I could barely move my wrist and it was still very uncomfortable. Ugh to the nth degree. My ride was over.

I slid across the sidewalk, the pain just starting to hit.

Looks innocent enough, but check out the skid marks Jason and I put down.
The good news was we were only 3 flat miles away from home. So, with Shannon's assist, I got my gear back on and made the ride home...one handed.

Down a man, the others head back out much to my delight. I'm glad they didn't alter their ride plans because of me.
Here's the intended route overview with our starting location buried in the far southeast corner:
Full Maricopa Trail + spur routes
Hopefully the weather holds out for the crew and they finish the entire thing. My attempt will have to come another time. While it was short, it was fun!! Thanks for the great riding company.

Meanwhile, I made a Doctor appointment to have x-ray orders sent in. I was able to get the x-rays completed early enough that the doctor gave me a call with the early results. The diagnosis: Soft tissue swelling with no acute fracture. However, if the pain persists for a week, then a second x-ray will be needed. Back in 2015 it took two x-rays to confirm my break, so my hopes are tempered at the moment.
Definitely not what I had planned.

February 9, 2019

Hawes: Traveling Salesman

We all have our bucket list types of rides. Some are certain areas we've always wanted to go to, others are events, and others are simply routes we've concocted. This particular ride was the latter, an all encompassing ride through the Hawes trail system and included the TRW offshoot. I wanted to include that bit of trail because that's where my introduction to Hawes began way back in 1994. I've done this sort of 'kitchen sink' ride here before, that was 7 years ago, but I was cut short when my rear derailleur imploded after 52 miles. There have been quite a few trail additions since then and it was making my efficient route planning quite difficult.

In the end, when I started turning the cranks, I decided to simply wing it and let the trails come to me. The only thing I really had planned out was to ride the TRW section first, get it out of the way since it's more or less an out-n-back.

I staged out of the Park-n-Ride lot under the Loop 202 freeway. This was by design as there are two parallel trails on each side of the canal. I'd start by riding the west side to TRW and finish the ride exiting the Hawes system on the east side.

It was an overcast, cool morning which would hold steady the entire day. Perfect for a huge ride. I made my way over to the TRW trail and the first order of business was to ride the 3 trails on the main hill. Then, a popular theme for the day, knock out a short out-n-back (OnB) to a main access point.
Down Saguaro on the flanks of the TRW hill.
Red Mountain from the top of TRW hill.

Next was a series of unmapped social trails that spiderweb all over the place, yet seem well placed. I've ridden these trails a bunch of times, but by no means do I know the area intimately. I started by taking all the left fork options until I reached the canal. I then closed the outer loop and began picking off the inner loops. Having an app record the ride was super helpful here as I came to an intersection, I could easily see which way I had gone before or if it was my first time to the point. Believe me, after a while they all look the same!!
South Canal.

Fancy trail median points the way.

Somebody's been busy moving rocks!!
I wrapped up the social loops and made my TRW exit. I was right on schedule, as it took 1 1/2 hours to tally all the combos.

Now things were going to get interesting. I wanted to ride some of the main interior trails and leave a logical final loop to end the ride. Again, a few OnB's would be necessary, but I zigzagged through the central trails knocking out some of my least favorite ones, saving the best for last. Once I was satisfied with my initial pass through, I made my way towards the Mine trail exit. I picked up Horse Tail here and wrapped around the mountain to the north side of Hawes where all the new trail building has occurred.

I took a snack break at the Wild Horse junction while I confirmed my next plan of attack. That included making a short loop back to the main Hawes interior trails via Twisted Sister. This would clear two possible OnB options, allow me to tick off a couple of trailhead spurs and use a bit of pavement to speed up the operation back to the north side.
While I sat crushing some snacks, my buddy, Ezra rode up, then two more friends rolled in off Wild Horse, Steve & Brett. We were all out on independent big rides and happened to meet. I ran into a lot of riders during the day, but these were the only 3 that I knew. Crazy.

Not a bad view from Twisted Sister.

Even better view from the Tequila Tree, still bearing fruit. This route demanded a visit.
My plan through the north side was easy to figure out, do a figure 8 through the new trails and exit via High Horse. Halfway through the figure 8, I realized I should first do another OnB to the NRA trailhead.
Target shooting is prohibited here, but tagging is ok.

I passed by the Beetle remnants at 3pm.
Originally, I had thought I'd be able to ride all the big climbing & technical trails first. As the day wore on I was beginning to see that I'd be doing most of the slow, hard riding near the end. Oh well.

I was now on a steady climb towards Alpe D'Huez trail. Then the real climbing began...followed by hike-a-bike (HAB). I was somewhere around 45 miles into the day, no real idea how many miles it was going to take and I didn't really care. It was now 4pm and the slow trails were upon me. I was feeling great, but knew I wouldn't wrap things up before dark. I was regretting my decision to sleep in. I could've used that extra 1 1/2 hours of daylight!! Ha!
Finally!! A little bit of riding on Goat trail...and more HAB.

High point attained!!

Looks like some additions to the sign appeared.

The big bad city far below.
This was my first time riding westbound over Gidro Pass and I was looking forward to riding down Cactus Garden for a change. The bad news? As I rode down the bottom 2/3 of Cactus Garden I was reminded that I'd have to climb back up to reach Super D or whatever that trail is called.

But first, I had to cross off a long time Hawes trail that I had never been on. Say what?!? Yep, believe it. I had never been on the Microwave Tower trail. I had heard stories of gnarly white knuckle descents, which really aren't my thing. The bottom of Cactus Garden actually puts you fairly high on the hill anyway so it was an easy choice to HAB up Microwave trail.
Oof. That was work to get up here!! Top of Microwave trail looking east towards Pass Mtn.

There it is, the namesake.
I'm not going to lie, I only rode about 20% of the trail going down. I thought that was pretty good considering I didn't think I'd ride any of it on the way up!!

Next up was the upper reaches of Hawes trail. It loops high around some multi-million dollar homes including some nutjob owner who harassed trail users and filed false reports all while being recorded much to YouTube delight. What a kook. Anyway, it was easy to tell which house was his, since it's plaster with No Trespassing signs.
Definitely in the high rent district.
I did a quick loop on the crappy Mountain Wash trail and noticed I may luck out and catch a spectacular sunset during my Cactus Garden climb. There was a pie shaped slice of blue sky appearing on the western horizon...
The good portion of Mountain Wash trail.

The Sun makes an appearance and the hillside is aglow in golden hour rays.

Ooh, this is gonna be good!!

Funky cloud formation provided a perfect sunset canvas.

Top of Super D, switching to night riding mode.
I took my time on the downhill since there's a bit of penalty for failure in spots. I was now on the final lap so-to-speak. It's one of my go-to Hawes routes: Hawes trail - Magic Mountain - Disneyland - Secret - Saddle - Mine - Ridge - Back to Hawes & out via Fenceline. Of course I had a little bit of cleanup to do. Two short OnB's before heading out Fenceline.
Nothing but darkness between myself & the city lights. I was a bit surprised to not see another night rider.

Climbing Mine trail at mile 55 felt pretty darn good.

One of the final trails of the ride.
I wrapped things up at 8:30p almost 12 hours on the dot and under 64 miles. The climbing stats varied between Strava & Garmin, 7600' to 8100' respectively.

I felt fantastic at the end of the ride, so much so, that if I had more time I would've thrown in a Pass Mtn & Usery Park loop. I felt I had at least another 6-8 hours in me. I haven't felt that good after a solid ride in a while. I think all this training is paying dividends.
Route overview.
I have a few other areas that would be fun to do a Traveling Salesman loop, some I've done already, but new trails have sprung up and others would be a first. Time to start planning...

*Check out the flyover, it's rather amusing!!