March 4, 2019

Queen's Ransom '19

This year's ride was in limbo for me right up until the eleventh hour after my sidewalk wreck during our Maricopa Trail attempt. My second x-ray came back negative on Wednesday and Thursday brought the first day I truly felt a significant gain in the use of my right wrist. I was liking my chances to at least roll out with the group and see how it felt.

This year was a little different as I had a great deal of interest in the ride. I made an online RSVP form so I could keep track of head count. By Friday evening it had reached 23!! Earlier in the week, Jeff had mentioned that we may want to move camp 1 as we may be cramped there. I made a last ditch effort and called Don's Camp at the east end of the Gold Canyon trails early in the week. Our luck seemed to pay off as I was told the compound was available.

I arrange parking with our HOA and Beto arrived Thursday afternoon. He was smart and opted to head up a day early to crash at our place. I had a couple of last minute cancellations as the riders began to arrive. Before we knew it, it was 7a and we were ready to roll!!
I'm gonna need a bigger driveway.
There were 17 leaving from my house with only one rider out of the group intending to not ride the entire loop. Lots of committed folks this year, as a few came over from SoCal and they convinced a buddy to drive over from Oklahoma. Everyone else was from AZ, but scattered about from Tucson to Prescott.
Making our way out of my neighborhood. Photo by Jeff.

Lil Nancy on the dropbars. Photo by Jeff.
Leading the group through the greenbelt portion.
First batch of dirt on route. Photo by Jeff.

One of the perils along the canal section, not sure what the reasoning is with two of these fences. The canal is an approved multi-use recreation path.
 The first 20 or so miles are flat, mostly on canal banks and a bit of pavement. It's a good warmup for the long day and a chance to chat & meet the group. We picked up a second Mike along the way as he had some last minute work duties to tend to. He claimed to be out-of-shape, yet showed up on a singlespeed setup. #notbuyingit
Early stop at Desert Trails Bike Park. Photo by Devin.

Eric testing out his bikepacking handling skills.

Rob stepped up huge, rolling the singlespeed.
The Desert Trails Bike Park in Mesa is a good opportunity to shed early layers and get ready for the miles of dirt riding that follows suit. It was around 9:30a and I reminded everyone to ride their own pace, DO NOT let me set the tempo!! It's nice to arrive/ride here as a group, but now it was time for everyone to really begin their own experience.

Almost as soon as we hit the first batch of singletrack in the Hawes system I could tell my climbing legs hadn't yet arrived to the party. I was still leading the group and after a couple of miles I insisted that the strong riders go ahead.

I started to settle in a bit, but as the trails kicked up a bit more I really didn't have an answer. Hmmm. I wasn't bonking, just felt a bit fatigued. Perhaps it was being off the bike for 2 weeks and jumping back into things on a loaded rig.

I made my way through the neighborhood climb and re-joined the Hawes trail just as Jennifer & John were wrapping up a hike. They live down the road and wanted to join the ride, but a conference got in the way. Next year!!

Mike W & Russ took off while I was chatting. There was now 4 of us bringing up the rear: Steve, Nancy A (aka Lil Nancy), Lubo and myself.
Lubo heading down Magic Mountain. This was his first bikepacking ride and he drove over solo from SoCal. He didn't know the others from there only myself via email & online. Kudos, dude.

Steve & Lil Nancy follow suit. Nancy rocking the rigid, dropbars, yowza!!

Since I was plodding along, I figured I'd soak up the desert display of wildflowers.

Nancy reaching the Twisted Sister turnoff.

Twisted Sister begins with a few punchy efforts before contouring around the mountain.

The poppies were on full display up here. Magical.
Photo by Ian.
Local Nancy somewhere in Hawes. Photo by Jeff.

I think that's a smile, tough nut to crack!! Photo by Nancy.
I made the turn and began what should've been a fast, flowy, fun descent to Wild Horse trail. Instead, my wrist began to really bug me and I had to take it easy on the rollout. At the bottom I ran into a fella who's been following my Strava rides and we talked a bit while I decided my plan for the day.

I decided I should stick with Wild Horse trail instead of High Horse since it's a bit more mellow and less climby. I then opted to cross through the NRA pit and take the road up to Usery Pass and enter the park via the main entrance. The other four were now long gone. I figured I'd catch up with someone at the Pass Mountain trailhead.

Red Mountain from Wild Horse trail.

Snack break along Wild Horse.

Four Peaks still loaded with snow on the west slope.

Visual flight rules from a bygone era.

Fast, flat trails await inside.
Mike H. rocking the singlespeed. Photo by Jeff.

Shade & cold water at the Pass Mtn. trailhead. Lunch break. Photo by Jeff.

Pass Mtn. selfie by Eric.
There were a few riders getting water at the Pass Mtn. trailhead when I rolled up. This roughly marks the halfway point of the day and I knew there was plenty of rocky trail ahead. So, I altered my route once again, skipping the Goldfield Mtn. portion and the techy Jacob Crosscut trail. I thought I could catch the fast riders or beat them to Gold Canyon for our group dinner at De La Cruz Mexican Grille.

Lubo confessed that he forgot to load the route file on his gps, so he asked if I wouldn't mind some company. Not at all. Better than getting lost in the desert!! I think we were that last two to leave.
Pass Mtn. from Moon Rock trail.

Nice view of the Superstition Mtns. as were ride east through Usery Park.
Jason entering the Goldfield Mtns. Photo by Beto.
Nancy on her way to the Land of Lichen in the Goldfield Mtns. Photo by Jeff.

Snow still clinging to the north slopes of the Superstition Mtns. Photo by Beto.
Eric & Doug getting some courage shots.
Into the hike-a-bike dimension!! Photo by Jeff.

Somewhere along the county island horse trails.
This is where our bypass of the Goldfield Mtns & Jacob Crosscut trail began. We continued east on the horse trails, then followed them around to the south before crossing AZ88.
Over a week after the storm and there's still snow high on the north facing slopes.
Jacob Crosscut trail get you up close and personal with the Superstition Mtns. Photo by Jeff.

Towering cliffs of the Supes. Photo by Jeff.

More Jacob Crosscut trail. Photo by Jeff.

This is the end of the Jacob Crosscut trail. Photo by Eric.
We linked onto Mountain View Rd, but had to navigate around/over a couple of new fences. This route would put us back on the main track only a few miles from our dinner stop in Gold Canyon. A little to our surprise, we saw a couple of riders a bit ahead of us. I was feeling the pull of margaritas now, dinner was near.
Seems appropriate.
We arrived at De La Cruz with a few of the faster riders. Most of us opted for Mexican fare. We secured a large table on the patio as one-by-one riders joined in. It was a great stop as we all shared our trail stories from the day. There was a bit of confusion after we paid the bill, when our waitress miscounted the cash we gave her and was asking for another $100!! Nope. She soon realized the mistake and all was well.

I had made a decision about the rest of my ride. I'd camp out, then ride over to Picketpost the following day where my buddy, Arunas, was going to meet the group with a SAG stop. He agreed to give me a lift home. I'd then return to the route at the SAG stop K had planned and finish the route.
Guarding the bikes while the others stock up.
Brett, the self-proclaimed 'Princess' came out for day1, I think he's ready to take the bikepacking plunge
Nancy racing daylight through Gold Canyon. Photo by Jeff.

Waning daylight as we wind our way through the Gold Canyon trails.
The long first day coming to a close. Photo by Eric.
When I moved camp 1 over to Don's Camp at the last minute, I knew some riders would arrive in the dark since it's roughly 7 additional miles. I adjusted the route to return to the Gold Canyon trails in the morning so the first time riders could actually see the surrounding mountains. As we rode along the Lost Goldmine trail, I was reminded how technical and slow going the trail was. This prompted another change: in the morning I'd have riders skip the return on Lost Goldmine and simply follow Peralta Rd. south to the route.

When I arrived at the camp, Vince informed me that another group had rented the place out for the entire weekend and wasn't too pleased to see us. I couldn't really argue, but I was informed the area was available for the night. Strange. The other group was a Girl Scout excursion and I eventually found the lady in charge. She had calmed down from earlier and we had a nice talk. I think when she realized we weren't there to party, but rather beat down from riding all day, she didn't mind if we stayed the night. She simply reminded us that there may be a bunch of silly, squealing 12 - 13 year old girls giggling throughout the night. None of us were concerned. She did mention that she contacted the guy, Steve, in charge of her permit. I thought he may show up.

Sure enough about 10 minutes later, a white pickup rolled into camp and kicked up some dust as it came to a stop. A heated fella exited the cab and wanted to know who was in charge of this rogue group. That would be me, sir. I could see the level of agitation on his face, skin glowing red under the headlights. He informed us we needed to leave since the other group had paid for a permit 7 months prior. I stayed calm throughout, informing Steve, that my contact had informed me the area was available this night. The issue was, my contact, was no longer the point of contact for reserving a space there. We talked some more about what exactly happened, and he repeated at least three times that we needed to leave. He then said he'd go talk to the other group and drove off.

It was now almost 9:30p, Jason had been asleep and I had dibs on waking him up if we really needed to move!! Steve came back about 10 minutes later and seemed much more composed. The Girl Scout leader helped calm him down and mentioned their group really didn't mind if we stayed the night and was concerned for us since we 'had no place to go'.

In the end, Steve allowed us to stay and even shared some history of the area with us. It was a little tense for a few minutes, but when Steve left he was in a much better mood, even joking with us a bit. Now I know who to contact for future outings.
'What have I gotten myself into...' Photo by Eric.
We had our large group in the two covered pavilions, plenty of room to spread out. I then received a text from Greg, who was going to join us in Gold Canyon. Somehow I missed getting him the camp 1 change and he ended up camping a bit further along the route. I never did see him as he was ahead of me the next day and was only riding the part of the route I skipped.
Packing up for day 2's adventure.
It was fun to see everyone's expression when they realized we had been camped beneath a towering cliff!! Don's Camp is an amazing place, I hope to keep it in the rotation.
The morning view.
Photo by Jeff.

I may adjust the routing in Gold Canyon to help us arrive here in daylight.

El Don's.
 Lubo asked if he could ride with me over to Picketpost. We rode a similar pace on the first day, so it worked out well for him. We were riding down Peralta Rd. about to rejoin the track when a car approached. I could see the passenger waving at me, then the car came to a sudden stop and they hopped out running around the back of the car. Caroline!!! I hadn't seen her in quite some time. She saw some of our group a few minutes earlier and she thought it may be our group. She was headed into the Superstitions for a weekend of hiking.
Jeff & Nancy caught up and it was a mini reunion!! So great to see you, Caroline.
A different way to see the desert. Photo by Beto.

The washes were still flowing on our way towards Queen Valley.
Devin on the dirt connection to Queen Valley. Photo by Jeff.
So much water to navigate. Photo by Jeff.

First time I've ever seen water in this wash!!

The retirement community was buzzing this Saturday morning.
 We caught up to a bunch of the riders at Fitz Stop convenience store. This is the last food stop until Florence, two days later. Better stock up!!
Eric working on his gut bomb. Photo by Devin.
Eric's motto for the weekend: If you're not drinkin', you're racing!! Photo by Eric.
Proof!! Photo by Jeff.

Gunsmoke Alley, aka Hewitt Station Rd.
There are two things that are a certainty along Hewitt Station Rd.: OHV rippers & target shooters. Both were in full force on this morning. Someone was shooting some kind of small rocket launcher by the sounds of it. I think all this action surprised Lubo a bit. Welcome to AZ, where it's not a real mountain bike ride until you hear the sound of gunfire. #pewpew

Queen Creek crossing along FR172.

Rugged beauty of the Superstition Mtns.

OHV detour around private property on Hewitt Station Rd.

We watched a couple of planes make the rounds doing target drops on the neon line over the ridge.

Spotted my first rattlesnake of the season. I thought it was dead, super sluggish in the cool temps, but he tracked me as I walked by.

Picketpost Mtn. getting close.

Lubo cruising towards his first taste of AZT!!

Lubo and a vintage AZT trail marker.

I opted for one of Rob's AZT supergates.

What a difference a week makes. This was taken during the Queen's Ransom...

...and this was the same location 7 days earlier. Whoa.

Sweet ribbon of dirt leading under US60.
We arrived at Picketpost to find my buddy, Arunas and his wife, had set up a most impressive SAG stop for the riders. I thought he was only bringing water!! We hung out for a bit, then the raindrops began to fall. The forecast had called for a quick, light shower in the afternoon. Right on time. I lent Lubo my GPS so he had a track to follow until the next SAG stop on Day 3. That's where I'd rejoin the route. As much as I love the AZT and especially the Picketpost to Kelvin section, I knew I'd pay the price.
Even Mother Nature loves the AZT. Photo by Lubo.
We packed up and made our way back to my house as the skies cleared.

Part 1 Route:
In this next section are a collection of photos from the riders who rode the portion I skipped from Picketpost to the SAG stop.
Riders gathering at Picketpost TH. Photo by Ian.

Incredible SAG stop by Arunas and his wife. Photo by Ian.

Devin with the obligatory Picketpost pose.

Greg at one of the better Picketpost overlooks.

A little rain won't stop these two. Photo by Jeff.

Twists & turns of the AZT. Photo by Beto.

East view towards Pinal Peak. Photo by Jeff.

Climbing towards the Martinez Canyon entrance. Photo by Ian.

One of the Martinez Canyon spires. Photo by Russ.

The intense greenery in Martinez Canyon makes it appear soft. Photo by Jeff.

Devin wins the wildlife photo award, capturing a rare Bighorn Sheep!! So jealous!! Photo by Devin.
A super rare catch basin full of water in Martinez Canyon. Photo by Gerrit.

Different angle. Photo by Jeff.

Man down!! Photo by Jeff.

Beto taking shelter in a small alcove during a brief passing shower.

Amazeballs. Photo by Jeff.

One of the most spectacular places you can ride a bike. Photo by Ian.

Peering into the Gila River basin, the beginning of the 7 mile descent to the river. Photo by Beto.
Rob looking forward to the long downhill. Photo by Russ.
Let the descent begin. Photo by Jeff.

Dale's Butte from camp 2. Photo by Devin.

Camp 2 spread. Photo by Beto.
Camp 2. Photo by Jeff.

G'morning! Photo by Jeff.

Gila River water filtering station. Photo by Russ.

Saguaro Alley down by the Gila. Photo by Beto.

AZT supergate along the Gila River. Photo by Ian.
The Gila River Valley. Photo by Russ.

Nancy along the Gila River singletrack. Photo by Jeff.

Ian gets lost in a sea of boulders. Photo by Jeff.

Photo by Jeff.

Rut-roh!! Photo by Russ.
Vince's fork seal blew out coming into Camp 2, he and Greg forded the Gila and tried pushing through the muck. Looks like a good time. Photo by Greg.
Eric & Doug enjoying the shade and the sparkling ADOT spigot water in Kelvin. Photo by Devin.
The next morning, K and I did our final preparations for the main SAG stop atop the Florence-Kelvin Hwy. K doesn't want to always admit it, but she enjoys hanging out with us grungy bikepackers on occasion!! Her willingness to help out on the ride doesn't go unnoticed and we all appreciate it.

We arrived at the spot where Jason had already arrived as did Jennifer who was dropped off by Shelby. We set up the area as the next couple of riders rolled in. One by one they arrived and couldn't believe all the goodies. The Flo-Kel climb is really the culmination of the Queen's Ransom efforts. It's not steep, just a 4 1/4 mile slog up a graded dirt road. The carrot? Margaritas, donuts, chips/salsa, Cokes, Gatorades, water, ice, pickles, fruit, etc.
'How much farther until the margaritas?' Photo by Shannon.
Getting things started with the Hanson's.

Ian getting set to roll on to a 3 day finish. Nice work!!

Russ & Rob rounding out the crew.
The out-of-state crew: Eric, Doug & Devin.

SAG stop!! Photo by Eric.

It was a lively bunch for the better part of 3 hours!! We had a few more join the fun at this point: Shannon, George & Jennifer. Jalene, Jerry, Cathy & Mathew all stopped by to say 'Hi!'
Team #loco board members sportin' the gear!!
I heard from the others that Lubo had pulled the plug in Kelvin. He was max'd out. It was fun riding with him, too bad he couldn't make it to the SAG stop, that surely would've done him wonders.

We were getting ready to head off to camp 3 and hadn't heard from Lil Nancy yet. The group had mentioned that she didn't camp the previous night with the crew. We figured if she was running behind, she'd catch up down near Area52.
I couldn't pull this off without her!!
I made sure everyone knew to hang out for a bit. There is absolutely no rush as it's only 9 mostly downhill miles to Camp 3 at Area52.
Jeff & Nancy lead the charge.

Beto & Doug trying to match the sky.

Eric, Devin & Shannon.

Singlespeed Rob!!

Jason & Mike.

Jennifer & George.

The views along this dirt road are eye-popping.

Good spot for a photo break.

Gila River Canyons. The AZT descends to the right of the large shadow on the left of the canyon. The upper portion is the location of Camp 2.

Down, down, down we go.

It's the dirt road equivalent of the Ripsey Ridgeline singletrack.
Beto flyin' to camp 3. Photo by Shannon.

Heading towards South Butte and our camp for the night.

Tucked against Area52, this small wash makes a perfect location.
Home sweet home for the night. Photo by Beto.

Plenty of room to spread out. Since it was a Sunday evening, 4x4 traffic was reduced to one or two vehicles all night.
Such a cool spot to camp. Photo by Eric.

Jeff gets the fire going.

The wine & whiskey made a few rounds.
Cheers!! Round 2! Photo by Eric.

Campfire blazin', stars above, stories shared. This is bikepacking.
We still hadn't heard from Lil Nancy and were beginning to get concerned. We sent some texts & left messages but no word. We figured if we hadn't heard anything in the morning we'd have to make some calls.

We woke the following morning to find most of our gear soaked in the morning dew. Not something we normally deal with here in the desert. The best news of the morning was getting a text from Lil Nancy saying she was camped down near Kelvin. She got turned around leaving camp 2 and spent most of that day wandering around Gold Canyon!! By the time she rejoined the route it was late, so she camped near the Picketpost trailhead. The following day was slow going on her setup and that's why she fell so far behind. I had her stay on the Florence-Kelvin Hwy, hoping she'd catch us in Florence.

The final day of the route is mostly flat and non-technical riding. It's a nice way to wrap things up. The goal was to continue to ride at your own pace, but try and stay a little bit together. We'd meet up at Desert Mountain Park before riding as a group over to Old Ellsworth Brewing Co.
Continuing down the wash towards South Butte.
Hike-a-bike train. Photo by Jeff.

Some early a.m. chunk to get the body moving. Photo by Shannon.

The Area52 bypass is a short chunky jeep road that gets the blood pumping early.

A neighborhood stroll for George. Have I mentioned that George builds amazing custom Ti bikes?? Binary Bicycles

Lots of sandy cruising, at least it's packed down!

The canopy of trees signal the close proximity of the Gila River, plenty of mud puddles remained from the week old storms.

Mike crests one of the few hills along the way.

What's this?? The one location I expected to see water, was bone dry!! No wonder the Gila River was flowing through Florence, it's not being diverted.

This is why. A massive construction project to pave the dirt lined canals that transport diverted Gila River water to nearby farming communities.

Our route goes through here, a typically dry Gila River crossing. A bit too muddy & deep for our liking, so we stayed on the road into Florence.
We arrived in Florence around 9:30a and most of us hit up the local McD's. I don't know what it is about bikepacking, I rarely think about going to McD's, but it's a huge draw on this ride or maybe it's just the McGriddles and opportunity to fill my water bladder with ice.
McD's, a bikepackers delight. Photo by Russ.
I checked on Lil Nancy's whereabouts, she was about an hour back. I sent her a text to meet us at the brewery.
This was a much easier crossing of the Gila River on SR79. Not sure I've ever seen the Gila flowing here.
Mike H. making the push through the Gila. Photo by Gerrit.
The next segment of the route is flat spinning on canal banks, 2-track, some forgotten dirt roads and a little bit of pavement. The first bit of canal often grabs the attention of a local dog or two and I've found over the years to stay on the south side and keep pedaling. This year, there was a dog lying in our path!! I figured he'd jump up and give chase, but I guess the others may have tuckered him out as he sheepishly slid out of our way.
'F' is for Florence on Poston Butte.

Russ & Rob on a short bit of canal.

The desert vastness on display as we traverse the less visited roads.

The symmetrical Walker Butte, the Coolidge 'C' is barely visible.
Shannon on the dusty road. Photo by Beto.

Civilization boundary approaches.

At least there's a nice dirt frontage road along the Hunt Hwy.

The carpet of yellow was evident in San Tan Valley.

Rock Peak trailhead entrance at San Tan Regional Park.
I warned the fellas about Rock Peak Wash trail entering San Tan Regional Park, it's often hike-a-bike for about 3/4 mile. This was the last bit of singletrack on the route, then it was beer 30. As soon as we dropped into the wash I heard Rob utter some unpleasantry while Russ and I continued to pedal. We were able to keep momentum going and rode the entire wash!! We found a slice of shade and waited for Rob. The singlespeed wasn't doing him any favors here and by the look he gave me upon exiting, it was confirmed. BS completed, we hopped on the fun, fast trails in the park.

Had to point out the Shaka cactus.

One of the saddles along San Tan trail provides a sweeping view to the south as Mt. Lemmon is visible on the far left horizon.

Turn around and look north and you'll see the sprawling Phoenix area.
Jennifer on Dynamite trail. Photo by Jason.

Rob descends the Dynamite trail.

Russ is a mere speck on the hillside trail. A fun 1.8 mile descent to wrap up the singletrack portion of the route.
We cruised down some neighborhood streets and made our way north to Desert Mountain Park where the rest of the gang was waiting our arrival. From the park it was a short mile ride over to the brewery where we had most of the patio to ourselves.
Re-grouped, we ride to beer. Photo by Jeff.

Full house on the patio. Photo by Russ.

A toast to a rad 4 days of riding in the desert.
 I began handing out the finishers patches & stickers, a true highlight for me. Those suckers are earned!! Right as I was putting Lil Nancy's together she rolled up to plenty of hoots & hollers!!
Eric & Lil Nancy.

The finishers lineup (3-day finishers: Ian & Mike H. not pictured)
Here are the finishers with their bikes:
My number 1 fan, Jeff Z.

Greg, all the way from Oklahoma!!

Lil Nancy showing some huge determination!! She came over from Cali.

Climbing Nancy.

Both Nancy's are quite the powerhouses!!

Russ came down from Prescott.

Eric, the Cali ring leader and responsible for getting Doug over here.

Beto, up from Tucson and certifiably #loco

Jason practically rode by his home on the route.

Mike W. clearly faking how tired he is!!

Devin, another from the California contingent.

Singlespeed Rob!!

Shannon's completed the route before, but always gets honorable mention because that's what the Team Loco VP gets. And she designed the QR logo!! Rockstar!!

A final couple of miles on the 'dreaded' Queen Creek Wash path, no wrecks today!!
Part 2 Route:
I can't say enough how incredible this year's group was. You all rock!! It's a tough route and nothing but positive vibes resonated each day. I'm thrilled I was able to get out and join in the fun for most of it.

I'd like to thank Arunas and his wife again for coming out to Picketpost with all kinds of treats & refreshments for the group and for driving me home!!! It also goes without saying that my wife, K, stole the show with her SAG stop atop the Florence-Kelvin climb. Thank you so much for making it a truly memorable experience!!

Mark your calendars: Feb. 28th - March 2nd, 2020 (Friday - Monday)
Earned it!! Photo by Rob.
Full route:

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Route profile can purchased as a poster, stickers or mug via Redbubble.
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  1. Awesome ride there John! Thanks for posting the photos of the Picketpost to Gila section. I certainly missed some spectacular scenery by doing it all in the dark. How good does it look with all of that greenery?!

    1. Dave,
      Sounds like you need to schedule an extended holiday!! Come over for a Queen's Ransom run and then follow it up with a triumphant return to the AZTR750!!