March 9, 2019

AES: Ripsey Long Loop

Last year I had to skip the AES Ripsey event due to an Achilles injury. This year I was recovering from a banged up wrist, but could give it a go. This route isn't as physically demanding as others on the schedule with over half of it being on graded dirt road.

I signed up for the long version mostly because it was a good training ride and I've never ridden Barkersville Rd. Time to change that. There's also been some fresh singletrack along the Arizona Trail that I wanted to ride.

The group rolled out on time and I quickly found myself near the back of the pack as we pedaled up the Florence-Kelvin climb. There would be no SAG stop waiting at the top today. The climb is 4 1/4 miles of steady gain. I have a few mental checkpoints along the way: The red tank, first set of powerlines, bigger powerlines and the view of the final pitch to the top.
Unintentional selfie!! I thought I was taking a pic of the red tank. Apparently not, ha!

Gorgeous morning for a bike ride.

The stuff gravel dreams are made of.

I've always been intrigued by this place.

The dirt turns to pavement at the Boulders as I chased this cow down the road until the fence ended.

Talk about a backyard route!! We rode right by Jason's place as he was heading out for a spin.

One of Jason's close neighbors.

Bret was a late starter and caught up along Barkersville Rd. I couldn't match his pace for long.

Steve and I rode a bunch of miles together before Freeman Rd.

Jason & Jennifer getting in some quality Tour Divide miles.

Finally on Freeman Rd. as Antelope Peak comes into view.
We arrived to Freeman Rd. trailhead where the legendary AZT trail angel, Sequoia, has set up camp. He offers AZT through travelers just about anything they could need/want: water, food, beer, chair, truck to sleep in, etc. He's so generous and does it for over a month during peak hiking season. We took advantage of his offer and chilled for a few minutes.
Quite the compound.

Bikes taking a break too.

Shade structure at Freeman Rd.

Cruising singletrack on the Boulders segment, but my wrist wasn't too happy. I adjusted the fork settings for a more plush ride.

Too bad more of the trail isn't surrounded by these outcroppings.

The famous self-closing gate.

Very bouldery.

Steve caught up at Elephant Butt.

Everything comes to a point in the desert.

Nature's throw-rug.

The greenery is thick this year.

Steve tops out on one of the few short climbs in the area.

The Gila River Canyons begin to come into view.

The singletrack ends and a powerline section begins where the Ripsey segment takes over.

The bigger the hills, the better the display.

Just over the initial powerline crest I spotted the new re-route, but it wasn't signed like I expected.

The new build is already roughed up thanks to the open range and lack of foot/tire traffic in these parts.

This fella didn't make it. There have been reports & sightings of a mountain lion in the area recently.

After the climb the trail winds through the surrounding hills.

A fun descent out of the hills led to....a dead end!! WTH??
The trail dead ended at a wash and I could see some flagging. I knew there was a 2-track nearby, but couldn't see it. A very short but ultra steep hike-a-bike brought me out of the wash and I could see the 2-track about 100' away. I guess I thought this trail was at least completed out to the 2-track. I knew I needed to remove this section from the AZTR routes.

The 2-track led me out of the hills and back to the end of the powerline section.

Caught up to thru-hiker 'Early Warning' after the powerline segment.
This portion of the AZT always causes me to miss a turn somewhere no matter how much I pay attention!! I swore today would be the day I rode it clean. It couldn't have been more than 10 minutes later when my GPS began beeping, telling me I was 'off course'?!? Huh? No way, I was clearly on the trail, but something looked a bit different. As I wandered farther off course I could see some fresh dirt, this section had obviously been re-routed. The trail was very well built and super easy to follow. I rejoined my pink line on the GPS at the large AZT supergate on a dirt road. There was another rider leaving as I rode up, but I never could get close enough to see who it was.
Here's a view of the water tank in Ripsey Wash from the trail. Note the 3 metal poles & cairn.

Not the greatest looking, but it'll save your life if needed.

The trail through here is riding so good these days. Nary a catclaw.
I caught up to Richard through here as he passed by me when I was riding the dead end re-route. His rear triangle had cracked, but was able to keep riding.
Closing in on the Big Hill the poppies take over.

Richard making his way towards the Big Hill.

This has been one the most intense, longest wildflower seasons I can remember.

There's gold in them thar hills.

Top of the Ripsey Ridgeline.

5 1/2 mile mostly downhill to the far dirt road below, the Florence-Kelvin Hwy.
By now my wrist was ready to be done. It confirmed one thing, I was going to skip the upcoming AZT300 in April. This injury has been very slow to heal, but it continues to improve. I need to focus on the big prize in June. This would be my last AES ride until the fall season.

All the colors were on display.

I did ok on the switchback attack section, cleaning 11 of 13.

Ray Mine tailings.

Rolling in to the finish. Photo by Bob.

Richard's busted bike, he finished a short while after me.

Post ride festivities.
Once again AES delivers a solid fun time. If you haven't been to an event, what are you waiting for? There are a few shorter distances to ease into it. Come on out!!


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